Soil-plant-atmosphere-research (SPAR) facility: A tool for plant research and modeling
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Integration of a process-based crop simulation model with user-friendly expert systems has aided farm managers by facilitating the selection of optimal solutions to widely varying problems. As such systems are enhanced to further understand plant responses to environment, there is increased need for diagnostics and management-decision aids either in support of optimizing resources for efficient farm management in precision agriculture technologies, or global climate change research, or the use of plants for remediation of extreme environmental conditions. In regards to precision agriculture, most engineering and computing technologies are presently in reality or commercially available for variable-rate/site-specific management ; whereas, the application of crop simulation models has been hampered by a lack of understanding of responses of several key physiological and developmental processes to environmental variation and the failure of many to conceptualize the opportunities to apply such technology to real-world agricultural and environmental problems. There are certainly a variety of approaches and facilities for investigating plant response to the environment. We have demonstrated the utility and value of a Soil-Plant-Atmosphere-Research (SPAR) facility, which comprises ten outdoor, naturally-lit chambers, in generating data useful for increased understanding of cotton growth and physiological responses to environment and for developing process-level physiological models. Operating a SPAR facility to acquire model data is often being more expedient and economical than field-plot experiments, because SPAR allows the scientist to minimize many of the covarying and confounding factors that occur in field experiments. As a result, basic plant processes investigated can be more directly related to the environmental variable(s) being studied. Also, the SPAR facilities are optimized for the measurement of plant and canopy-level physiological, growth and developmental processes under precisely controlled, but naturally lit, environmental conditions. This paper presents operational data and research results from a SPAR facility at Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, constructed in 1977 and still in use today. We describe herein how data obtained in the past and as well as data in future studies have features that are unique and instructive for both basic and applied plant biologists.