Assessing Rootstock Biology and Water Uptake through Proximal Sensing under Different Wetting/Drying Conditions

Considering the importance of the water status as a driver of the whole plant physiology at the vineyard scale, developing new technologies for the space-time measurement of roots distribution and water uptake is crucial for the development of efficient precision viticulture practices. This project (2017-2022) is devoted to the development of a non-invasive technique (electrical resistivity tomography, ERT), as a tool to compare dynamic changes in root growth and water uptake patterns, and to apply this technique to the study of several commercially available rootstocks under varied irrigation delivery methods (drippers, micro-sprinklers) and water regimes (sustained deficit irrigation, rain fed, fully watered). The project was conducted in a vineyard at UC Davis specifically planted for the study of the response of rootstocks to watering systems. According to the timetable of the funded proposal the first year consisted of two parallel objectives: i) the calibration of ERT to soil water and roots distribution iii) the physiological monitoring of different rootstocks under different water amounts and delivery methods.

In a vineyard planted to Chardonnay on different rootstocks representing the most common parentage classes in a randomized complete block design, six soil pits were dug for the description of the soil profile, the sampling of the soil for chemical-physical analysis and the installation of TDR probes for the monitoring of soil moisture. The pits were then refilled, and the soil allowed to resettle for several months before the measurements commenced. The section of the field used for calibration purposes was not irrigated throughout the season in order to cover a full range of moisture levels for that soil (from 24% to 8% vol.). In close correspondence of these pits, at the soil surface 300 stainless steel electrodes were installed at a distance of 0.62 m (2 feet) for the ERT monitoring. A single ERT measurement was able to cover 2 plants on 2 different rootstock, which represented an experimental unit. The water status of the plants within the experimental units was monitored using infrared thermography and pressure chamber measurements. Photosynthesis and stomatal conductance were monitored through a pressure bomb. The electrical resistivity was calibrated to the soil water content obtained by TDR measurements, and two different pedoelectrical models were fitted to the data: Archie, in a canonical and linearized form, and Waxman and Smits models. Their performances were tested on 20% of the data from the whole dataset that were excluded from the model fitting and then used as a test set of unobserved data. The three modeling approaches gave similar results on the test set, with a slight decrease in performance from the log-log linearization (RMSE = 1.22% vol., R2 = 0.73) and the Archie law (1.22 %vol., R2 = 0.73), to the Waxman-Smits model (RMSE = 1.23% vol., R2 = 0.73). The Archie law was then chosen, and confirmed to be well adapted to predominantly sandy soils such as the experiment site. This calibration was used to transform the ERT images from soil resistivity to soil moisture maps under different rootstocks in 2D and 3D. This is the first report in the world that 3D images of soil moisture were developed in a vineyard, and the first time that this technique was used to compare rootstock physiology in general. Great differences were found between contiguous rootstocks in their spatial use of water. The presented data show how lateral heterogeneity in soil moisture could reduce the efficiency of spot measurements, as those obtained with soil probes, and soil moisture sensors in determining irrigation needs.

At the end of the season, the soil was sampled with an auger at different locations in the middle between contiguous ERT electrodes. The soil was sampled every 0.1 m, brought to the laboratory and oven-dried. Roots were physically separated from the soil, and their presence was assessed in a gravimetrically (mg of roots per g of soil). The presence of roots was negatively correlated to soil moisture obtained through ERT (r = 0.45), i.e. greater the amount of roots, lower the amount of water at the end of a dry period. This relations was then used to map the roots using ERT as ancillary variable for the spatialization, therefore developing the first electrical image of root distribution in a vineyard.