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PeerJ. 2017 Mar 1;5:e3029. doi: 10.7717/peerj.3029. eCollection 2017.

Effects of root exudates of woody species on the soil anti-erodibility in the rhizosphere in a karst region, China.

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School of Environmental Science and Engineering, Chang'an University , Xi'an , China.
Water-affair Authority, Xifeng County , Guiyang , Guizhou , China.
College of Forestry, Guizhou University , Guiyang , Guizhou , China.



Rhizospheres, the most active interfaces between plants and soils, play a central role in the long-term maintenance of the biosphere. The anti-erodibility of soils (AES) regulated by the root exudates is crucial to the soil stability in the rhizospheres. However, scientists still debate (1) the key organic matter of the root exudates affecting the AES and (2) the interspecific variation of these root exudates.


We used an incubation of soils to test the effects of the root exudates from eight woody plant species on the change in soil aggregation and identified the organic matter in these root exudates with gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and biochemical methods. Furthermore, the relationships between the organic matter in the exudates and the AES in the rhizospheres of 34 additional tree species were analyzed.


The water-stable aggregates of the soils incubated with the root exudates increased by 15%-50% on average compared with control samples. The interspecific differences were significant. The root exudates included hundreds of specific organic matter types; hydrocarbon, total sugar, total amino acids, and phenolic compounds were crucial to the AES. These organic matter types could explain approximately 20-75% of the variation in the total effect of the root exudates on the AES, which was quantified based on the aggregate status, degree of aggregation, dispersion ratio, and dispersion coefficient.


The effects of the root exudates on the AES and the interspecific variation are as important as that of root density, litters, and vegetation covers. Many studies explored the effects of root density, litters, vegetation covers, and vegetation types on the AES, but little attention has been paid to the effects of the root exudates on the AES. Different plants secrete different relative contents of organic matter resulting in the variation of the effect of the root exudates on the AES. Our study quantified the causal relationships between the root exudates and the AES using modeling experiments in laboratory and field observations and indicated the interspecific variation of the AES and organic matter of the root exudates.


More organic compounds of the exudates related to the AES were recognized in this study. These results enhance the understanding of the soil stability at a slope and can be applied to ecosystem restoration.


Aggregate status; Anti-erodibility of soils; Degree of aggregation; Dispersion ratio; Gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer; Interspecific differences; Karst; Micro-aggregates; Rhizosphere; Root exudates; Soil erosion; Soil incubation; Water-stable aggregates; Woody plants

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare there are no competing interests. Hong Fang is an employee of Water-affair Authority of Xifeng County, Guiyang, Guizhou, China.

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