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An Optimized Rhizobox Protocol to Visualize Root Growth and Responsiveness to Localized Nutrients.

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Roots are notoriously difficult to study. Soil is both a visual and mechanical barrier, making it difficult to track roots in situ without destructive harvest or expensive equipment. We present a customizable and affordable rhizobox method that allows the non-destructive visualization of root growth over time and is particularly well-suited to studying root plasticity in response to localized resource patches. The method was validated by assessing maize genotypic variation in plasticity responses to patches containing 15N-labeled legume residue. Methods are described to obtain representative developmental measurements over time, measure root length density in resource-containing and control patches, calculate root growth rates, and determine 15N recovery by plant roots and shoots. Advantages, caveats, and potential future applications of the method are also discussed. Although care must be taken to ensure that experimental conditions do not bias root growth data, the rhizobox protocol presented here yields reliable results if carried out with sufficient attention to detail.

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