VSI - BARTZ Minirhizotron Systems

minirhizotron imaging system, root imager, MR camera, MR scanner, minirhizotron camera, root imaging, rhizosphere imaging

VSI-BARTZ Minirhizotron camera systems - Root and mycorrhiza development are key for plant performance and affect many ecosystem and biogeochemical processes. Observing the development of root systems is thus key to understand plant performance in natural and production ecosystems (trees and crops), and an important mean to unravel water, carbon and nutrient dynamics of terrestrial ecosystems. Non-destructive images of roots and the rhizosphere can be used to determine a variety of parameters (under controlled or abiotic and biotic stress conditions) including root system development, observation of growth and turnover patterns, root distribution per depth (root system architecture, RSA), occurrence of mycorrhizal root tips and hyphae development, and even rhizobia development and soil fauna observations. However, observing this "hidden half" of ecosystems is not easy, being covered in the soil. Minirhizotron (MR) systems are a qualitative and quantitative observation tool to study root and hyphal growth, longevity and distribution in situ or mesocosms experiments. The MR system is based on transparent tubes (MR-T) inserted tightly into manually or mechanically established holes. Subsequently an minirhizotron imaging device is inserted into the tube in order to record images of roots and rhizosphere seen through the MR tube walls. The images are then recorded and processed by a control unit.  Capture Full-HD images of living roots and mycorrhizal hyphae in soil to monitor growth, turnover and root system development over multiple seasons with the VSI-Bartz Minirhizotron systems!

  1. MANUAL MR Camera System VSI MS-16
  2. AUTOMATIC MR Camera System (for rhizotron facilities) VSI AS-17 (details coming soon)
  3. AUTOMATIC MR Camera System (for vertically installed MR tubes) VSI AS-18 (details coming soon)
  4. R&D Project: Development of an autonomous root scanner for permanent installation in situ

NEW 2018: VSI powered by Bartz Technology Corp.

2018 brings about exciting changes both for Vienna Scientific Instruments and the users of minirhizotron camera systems.  In our quest to provide our customers the best minirhizotron products available we are very pleased to announce that we are now working in conjunction with the long-term MR camera experts at Bartz Technology Corporation, California, USA. We are currently integrating the advanced VSI hardware MR systems with the convenient, Windows-based ICAP software of BARTZ and will, together, continue to provide reliable and affordable MR hardware and software solutions (such as a new version of BTC-ICAP) to researchers world-wide. Stay tuned. 

Getting to the root of the matter!

Pisum sativum root, root imaging, minirhizotron, VSI-Bartz MS-16
Pisum sativum root in a sand/humus-filled pot. Image was captured with VSI-Bartz MS-16

The VSI-Bartz minirhizotron camera systems are composed of modular units and specific features can be combined to highly customised devices -fitting both scientific needs and funding situation. Our minirhizotron cameras are available either as fixed diameter systems for MR tubes of 5 or 7 cm inner diameter – allowing for continued use of available tubes and to easily upgrade older imaging systems. Imaging systems for other tube diameters can be realised upon request. The imaging process can be completely automatised including tube recognition and imaging of pre-set or previously imaged locations, but classical systems with manual indexing ("Smucker handle") are also available. In any case, precision in terms of imaging quality and repeatability of imaging locations and ease-of-use is key. All imaging systems allow to capture Full HD images of selected areas (around the tube surface), easily allowing to adapt the size of the monitored MR-T surface to research needs and resources available for image analyses. The minor image distortion of original images, caused by the curved tube surface, can be (automatically) corrected by the included software. Image size (standard: 20 x 20 mm) can be adjusted, allowing to align root length observations from MR-Ts e.g. to biomass sampling depth (e.g. 0-10 cm, 10-20 cm, ...) without resizing images. Imaging a depth gradient at a time, on predefined sides of the MR-T, is recommended when using angled MR-Ts -allowing for more accurate soil depth determination then in other systems own the market. The minirhizotron imaging systems are either programmed and operated by a handheld or a laptop (Windows OS, Bartz ICAP program); both wireless (approx. 10 m radius for remote-control-release) and cable-bound options are available. Devices are powered by Li-ion batteries (>10 h operation time @ 10-30°C) or power line (110-230V). Image naming follows the ICAP-scheme (ExpName_T001_L001_Date_Time_001_Op.jpg) to be compatible with analyses software world-wide (see below). In addition, a section number can be given instead of the operator name to distinguish multiple "imaging transects" (depth in vertical MR-Ts, angle in horizontal MR-Ts) within the same MR tube.

VSI-bartz Minirhizotron Imaging systems, Design examples

Five things Required for a minirhizotron study

  • MR imaging device: options see above / get in contact
  • Minirhizotron tubes (MR-T): Acrylic tubes (standard) of various diameters can be purchased, other materials are available upon request. In addition, we can cut MR-T to length. If you like to acquire your MR-T elsewhere, please inform us about the tube dimension (inner, outer diameter) when purchasing a MR camera.
  • Tube refiningIt is recommended to close your minirhizotron tubes on both sides to prevent water, dust and daylight to enter. We can supply (removable) end caps or produce all possible types of permanent seals (bottom only). If installed in non-temperate ecosystems, an extra insulation of the protruding MR-T part is recommended to minimize changes in soil temperature around tubes. Machine-readable tags glued to each tube can be used by certain devices for automatic tube detection.
  • Soil coring setTo install the MR tubes in situ, a soil corer with a slightly smaller diameter is needed for tight installation. We can manufacture soil corer sets suitable to install the chosen MR-T type to a depth of approx. 1 m (depending on brawn ;) and soil skeleton of course). We currently do not offer mechanized/tractor-mountable drilling devices for deeper installation of MR tubes.
  • Image analyses software: see below for some (free) options.

Selected software tools to analyse minirhizotron Pictures

Visit the great Plant Image Analysis webpage of G. Lobet for a comprehensive list of image analysis software tools.

[Vienna Scientific Instruments is not responsible for the content of external links. ]

Selected readings on Minirhizotrons

  • Britschgi, D., P. Stamp, and J. M. Herrera. 2013. Root Growth of Neighboring Maize and Weeds Studied with Minirhizotrons. Weed Science 61:319-327.
  • Iversen, C. M., M. T. Murphy, M. F. Allen, J. Childs, D. M. Eissenstat, E. a. Lilleskov, T. M. Sarjala, V. L. Sloan, and P. F. Sullivan. 2011. Advancing the use of minirhizotrons in wetlands. Plant and Soil 352:23-39.
  • McCormack, L. M., D. M. Eissenstat, A. M. Prasad, and E. A. Smithwick. 2013. Regional scale patterns of fine root lifespan and turnover under current and future climate. Global Change Biology 19:1697-1708.
  • Milchunas, D. G. 2012. Biases and Errors Associated with Different Root Production Methods and Their Effects on Field Estimates of Belowground Net Primary Production Measuring Roots. Pages 303-339 in S. Mancuso, editor. Measuring roots - An updated approach. Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
  • Pinno, B. D., S. D. Wilson, D. F. Steinaker, K. C. J. Van Rees, and S. A. McDonald. 2010. Fine root dynamics of trembling aspen in boreal forest and aspen parkland in central Canada. Annals of Forest Science 67.
  • Rewald, B., and J. E. Ephrath. 2013. Minirhizotron techniques. Pages 1-15 in A. Eshel and T. Beeckman, editors. Plant roots: The hidden half. CRC Press, New York, USA.
  • Zeng, G., S. T. Birchfield, and C. E. Wells. 2010. Rapid automated detection of roots in minirhizotron images. Machine Vision and Applications 21:309-317.