Submitted to: Computers and Electronics in Agriculture
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/5/2007
Publication Date: 1/18/2008
Citation: Zobel, R.W. 2008. Hardware and software efficacy in assessment of fine root diameter distributions. Computers and Electronics in Agriculture. 60:178-189. Interpretive Summary: Environmental constraints to water and nutrient uptake by pasture and crop plants inhibit self sufficiency in much of the world and in the Appalachian and Inter-mountain Regions of the U.S. Attempts to alleviate these constraints are hampered by a lack of knowledge of the development and function of the finest plant roots. For most crop and pasture species, these roots are about the size of a human hair. This research paper looks at the available computer software designed to analyze root length and diameter from digital images of roots. The paper reports that none of the software packages studied were able to adequately analyze these roots. The paper suggests several possible modifications to improve the software so that routine analysis of fine roots can be carried out.
Technical Abstract: Fine roots constitute the majority of root system surface area and thus most of the nutrient and water absorbing surface. Fine roots are, however, the least understood of all plant roots. A sensitivity analysis of several software programs capable of providing root diameter distribution analyses was undertaken to determine if this software was capable of discriminating 10 % changes in the diameters of root with diameters in the 0.05 to 0.2 mm range. Digital images produced by drawing discrete lines, by scanning wires of various diameters, and by scanning roots from several legume species were analyzed and compared. None of the three packages were able to adequately analyze these images. Each introduced artifacts into the data that were sever enough to confound interpretation of the resulting histograms. One package was clearly superior to the other two for routine digital analysis. All three packages require additional development before they are suitable for routine analysis of fine roots. Some possible directions for improvement are offered.