A mathematical model for pH patterns in the rhizospheres of growth zones


Correspondence: W. K.Silk Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, University of California, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616–8627, USA. Tel.: 1 530 752 0686; e-mail: wksilk@ucdavis.edu


In the classical model by Nye (1981), the main process for the change in pH across the rhizosphere is assumed to be diffusion. The classical model focuses on the non-growing part of the root and assumes that the distribution of ion fluxes along the root is spatially uniform. We consider the rhizosphere of the growth zone and take into account the root growth rate and spatially varying flux along the root surface. We present both analytical (dimensional analysis) and experimental (computational) evidence of the importance of taking into account the root growth rate. We describe a conceptual and mathematical model to analyse the pH field around the root tip over time. The model is used with published data to show that, for typical growth rates in sandy soil, the pH field becomes steady (independent of time) after 6 h. Dimensional analysis reveals that a version of the Péclet number, related to the quotient of root elongation rate and proton diffusivity, can be used to predict the extent of the rhizosphere and the time required for it to become steady. For Péclet numbers much greater than 1 (soils), the root influences soil pH for distances on the millimetre scale. In contrast, for Péclet numbers much less than one (agar, aqueous solution), the root influences substrate pH for radial distances on the scale of centimetres. We also present some evidence that agar-contact techniques to measure the soil pH may not be appropriate for measuring the millimetre-scale gradients in soil pH.