There is compelling evidence that when root hairs interact with the surrounding soil they reduce soil erosion and increase soil cohesion by binding soil particles.
Soil erosion can have a devastating impact across the globe and a serious threat for modern agriculture. The increased demand for agriculture has led to forests and natural grasslands being converted to farm fields and pastures.
However, many of the plants grown, such as coffee, cotton and palm oil, can significantly increase soil erosion beyond the soil’s ability to maintain and renovate. It can also lead to increased pollution and sedimentation in streams and rivers or, because these areas are often less able to hold onto water, can worsen flooding. This problem is particularly urgent considering the ever-expanding human population and climate change.
The research team looked at how wild plants Arabidopsis thaliana, which produced root hairs, compared with an almost identical Arabidopsis with the same root hair structure in reducing soil erosion. They found that, when planted in sufficient density, plants with root hairs reduced soil loss almost completely – while otherwise identical plants without hairs could not stem the flow of erosion.
Paper: Micro-scale interactions between Arabidopsis root hairs and soil particles influence soil erosion by Sarah De Baets, Thomas D. G. Denbigh, Kevin M. Smyth, Bethany M. Eldridge, Laura Weldon, Benjamin Higgins, Antoni Matyjaszkiewicz, Jeroen Meersmans, Emily R. Larson, Isaac V. Chenchiah, Tanniemola B. Liverpool, Timothy A. Quine and Claire S. Grierson in Communications Biology.
Beth Eldridge (current SWBio DTP student) and Tom Denbigh (former SWBio DTP student) are both co-authors on this paper and you can listen to the GARNet podcast where they discuss the innovative experimental procedures that they designed to measure the interaction of root hairs with their environment.