Rainfall reduction impacts rhizosphere biogeochemistry in eucalypts grown in a deep Ferralsol in Brazil
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Background and aims: Comparing root functioning under contrasting rainfall regimes can help assessing the capacity of plant species to cope with more intense and frequent drought predicted under climate change context. While the awareness of the need to study the whole root system is growing, most of the studies of root functioning through rhizosphere analyses have been restricted to the topsoil. Our study aimed to assess whether the depth in the soil and the rainfall amount affect root functioning, and notably the fate of nutrients within the rhizosphere. Methods: We compared pH and nutrient availability within the rhizosphere and bulk soil along a 4-m deep soil profile in a 5-year-old eucalypt (Eucalyptus grandis) plantation under undisturbed and reduced rainfall treatments. Results: The exchangeable K concentration and the pH of the bulk soil were not influenced by the reduced rainfall treatment. By contrast, the H3O+ concentration in the rhizosphere was significantly greater than that of the bulk soil, only in the reduced rainfall plot. The concentrations of exchangeable K in the rhizosphere were significantly larger than those of the bulk soil in both treatments but this difference was higher in the reduced rainfall plot, notably below the depth of 2 m. Both exchangeable K and H3O+ concentration significantly increased within the rhizosphere in the reduced rainfall treatment at soil depth down to 4 m. Conclusions: The amount of K brought to the roots by mass flow was estimated and could not explain the observed increase in exchangeable K concentration within the rhizosphere. A more likely explanation was root-induced weathering of K-bearing minerals, partly related to enhanced rhizosphere acidification. Our results demonstrate that root functioning can be considerably altered as a response to drought down to large depths.