Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
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Mathematical models of plant–soil interaction

Tiina Roose

Tiina Roose

OCIAM and CMB, Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford24–29 St Giles, Oxford OX1 3LB, UK

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Andrea Schnepf

Andrea Schnepf

Institute of Soil Science, Department of Forest and Soil Sciences, BOKU–University of Natural Resources and Applied Life SciencesPeter Jordan-Strasse 82, 1190 Vienna, Austria

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Published:https://doi.org/10.1098/rsta.2008.0198

    In this paper, we set out to illustrate and discuss how mathematical modelling could and should be applied to aid our understanding of plants and, in particular, plant–soil interactions. Our aim is to persuade members of both the biological and mathematical communities of the need to collaborate in developing quantitative mechanistic models. We believe that such models will lead to a more profound understanding of the fundamental science of plants and may help us with managing real-world problems such as food shortages and global warming. We start the paper by reviewing mathematical models that have been developed to describe nutrient and water uptake by a single root. We discuss briefly the mathematical techniques involved in analysing these models and present some of the analytical results of these models. Then, we describe how the information gained from the single-root scale models can be translated to root system and field scales. We discuss the advantages and disadvantages of different mathematical approaches and make a case that mechanistic rather than phenomenological models will in the end be more trustworthy. We also discuss the need for a considerable amount of effort on the fundamental mathematics of upscaling and homogenization methods specialized for branched networks such as roots. Finally, we discuss different future avenues of research and how we believe these should be approached so that in the long term it will be possible to develop a valid, quantitative whole-plant model.

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