Although water-saving measures are increasingly being adopted in orchards, little is known about how different irrigation methods enhance water use efficiency at the root system level. To study the allocation of water sources of water absorption by cherry roots under two irrigation methods, surface irrigation and drip irrigation, oxygen isotope tracing and root excavation were used in this study. We found that different irrigation methods have different effects on the average δ18
O content of soil water in the soil profile. The IsoSource model was applied to calculate the contribution rate of water absorption by cherry roots under these irrigation methods. During the drought period in spring (also a key period of water consumption for cherry trees), irrigation water was the main source of water absorbed by cherry roots. In summer, cherry roots exhibited a wide range of water absorption sources. In this case, relative to the surface irrigation mode, the drip irrigation mode demonstrated higher irrigation water use efficiency. After two years of the above experiment, root excavation was used to analyze the effects of these irrigation methods on the distribution pattern of roots. We found that root distribution is mainly affected by soil depth. The root system indexes in 10–30 cm soil layer differ significantly from those in other soil layers. Drip irrigation increased the root length density (RLD) and root surface area (RSA) in the shallow soil. There was no significant difference in root biomass density (RBD) and root volume ratio (RVR) between the two irrigation treatments. The effects of these irrigation methods on the 2D distribution of cherry RBD, RLD, RSA and RVR, which indicated that the cherry roots were mainly concentrated in the horizontal depths of 20 to 100 cm, which was related to the irrigation wet zone. In the current experiment, more than 85% of cherry roots were distributed in the space with horizontal radius of 0 to 100 cm and vertical depth of 0 to 80 cm; above 95% of cherry roots were distributed in the space with the horizontal radius of 0 to 150 cm and the vertical depth of 0 to 80 cm. Compared with surface irrigation, drip irrigation makes RLD and RSA more concentrated in the horizontal range of 30–100 cm and vertical range of 0–70 cm.
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