Crop root system plasticity for improved yields in saline soils

Megan C. Shelden, Rana Munns

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Crop yields must increase to meet the demands of a growing world population. Soil salinization is increasing due to the impacts of climate change, reducing the area of arable land for crop production. Plant root systems are plastic, and their architecture can be modulated to (1) acquire nutrients and water for growth, and (2) respond to hostile soil environments. Saline soils inhibit primary root growth and alter root system architecture (RSA) of crop plants. In this review, we explore how crop root systems respond and adapt to salinity, focusing predominately on the staple cereal crops wheat, maize, rice, and barley, that all play a major role in global food security. Cereal crops are classified as glycophytes (salt-sensitive) however salt-tolerance can differ both between species and within a species. In the past, due to the inherent difficulties associated with visualising and measuring root traits, crop breeding strategies have tended to focus on optimising shoot traits. High-resolution phenotyping techniques now make it possible to visualise and measure root traits in soil systems. A steep, deep and cheap root ideotype has been proposed for water and nitrogen capture. Changes in RSA can be an adaptive strategy to avoid saline soils whilst optimising nutrient and water acquisition. In this review we propose a new model for designing crops with a salt-tolerant root ideotype. The proposed root ideotype would exhibit root plasticity to adapt to saline soils, root anatomical changes to conserve energy and restrict sodium (Na+) uptake, and transport mechanisms to reduce the amount of Na+ transported to leaves. In the future, combining high-resolution root phenotyping with advances in crop genetics will allow us to uncover root traits in complex crop species such as wheat, that can be incorporated into crop breeding programs for yield stability in saline soils.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1120583
Number of pages14
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
Publication statusPublished - 24 Feb 2023


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