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Tino Colombi

Tino Colombi
As a plant ecophysiologist, I am interested in the interactions between plants and their environment. In particular, my research focuses on relationships between agricultural management, soil structure and related physical properties, and plant growth. Using experimental and modelling approaches, I study processes at the root-soil interface that regulate both plant growth and soil structure dynamics at different spatial and temporal scales. Ultimately, such fundamental knowledge will contribute to the design of novel cropping systems that ensure high and stable crop productivity in the long-term.


Improving crop tolerance to high soil strength: High soil strength typically occurs in both dry and compacted soil and results in slow and metabolically expensive root growth. Novel varieties with improved tolerance to high soil strength are needed to ensure crop productivity under drought and soil compaction. Root traits enhancing the rate and metabolic efficiency of root growth under high soil strength must be integrated into such adapted varieties. To achieve this, functional plant phenomics are combined with biophysical modelling, bioenergetics and plant genetics.

Interactions between plant physiological processes and soil structure dynamics: Soil structure defines a set of soil physical properties that are crucial for plant growth, namely soil strength, water retention and aeration. Moreover, root growth and root water uptake modify soil structure and associated physical properties. Biophysical processes at the root-soil interface that regulate plant growth and soil structure dynamics are investigated using different imaging techniques such as X-ray computed tomography and time-lapse imaging, and theoretical approaches.

Influences of agricultural management on soil structure and ecosystem functions: Agricultural soil management in the form of tillage, organic amendments and the use of different plant species in crop rotations affects the structure of arable soils. In turn this has consequences for ecosystem functions of cropping systems including agricultral productivity and carbon sequestration. Field experiments and on-farm studies are carried out in order to understand how soil structure and associated functions can be improved through management.

Current projects

Adapting wheat to hard soils – from the phenotype to the genotype and back (AHaS). Funding: Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development (FORMAS) and Lantmännen Research Foundation. Role: PI. 

RootMix – Mixed cultivar systems to mitigate drought effects on Nordic crop production. Funding: Novo Nordisk Foundation. Role: Co-I, PI: Thomas Keller.

Soil management for improved soil quality and yield stability under extreme weather. Funding: Stiftelsen Lantbruksforskning (SLF). Role: Co-I, PI: Thomas Keller.

Carbon saturation revisited: Effects of aluminium oxides and soil structure on the carbon storage capacity of Swedish agricultural soils. Funding: Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development (FORMAS). Role: Co-I, PI: Mats Larsbo.

A science – industry partnership to develop more nutrient efficient spring wheat: Development of a mapping population, field phenotyping and genotyping for marker-assisted breeding. Funding: Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development (FORMAS). Role: Co-I, PI: Martin Weih.

Completed projects (selection)

Improving soil structure in agro-ecosystems: Processes, interactions and feedbacks along the soil-root-shoot continuum governing soil structure formation (ImproSoSt). Funding: Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems (Vinnova). Role: PI. 

Growing fast at minimum costs – Transcriptome profiling in spring wheat roots growing in high strength soil. Funding: Platform for Plant Breeding, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). Role: PI.

Efficient soil exploration in spring wheat: Using calorimetry to quantify energy costs of root growth. Funding: Lantmännen Research Foundation and Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry (KSLA). Role: PI.


Crop production ecology, SLU, Uppsala, Sweden

Plant breeding, SLU, Alnarp, Sweden

Lantmännen Lantbruck, Svalöv, Sweden

ETH Zurich, Switzerland

Agroscope Zurich, Switzerland

University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Technical University of Munich, Germany 

Stockholm University, Sweden


2020-present: Researcher in Soil Mechanics and Soil Management Group, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Uppsala, Sweden

2017-2020: Postdoc in Soil Mechanics and Soil Management Group, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Uppsala, Sweden

2017: Ph.D. in Agricultural Sciences at Department of Environmental Systems Science, ETH Zurich, Switzerland, Prof Achim Walter

2013: MSc. in Agricultural Sciences, Major in Crop Science, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

Selected publications

Liu H, Colombi T, Jäck O, Westerbergh A, Weih M (2022). Linking wheat nitrogen use to root traits: Shallow and thin embryonic roots enhance uptake but reduce conversion efficiency of nitrogen. Field Crops Research. 285: 108603. doi: 10.1016/j.fcr.2022.108603. 

Sjulgård H, Colombi T, Keller T (2022). Spatiotemporal patterns of crop diversity reveal potential for diversification in Swedish agriculture. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment. 336: 108046. doi: 10.1016/j.agee.2022.108046. 

Büchi L, Walder F, Banerjee S, Colombi T, van der Heijden MGA, Keller T, Charles R, Six J (2022). Pedoclimatic factors and management determine soil organic carbon and aggregation in farmer fields at a regional scale. Geoderma 409: 115632. doi: 10.1016/j.geoderma.2021.115632. 

Liu H, Colombi T, Jäck O, Keller T, Weih M (2022). Effects of soil compaction on grain yield of wheat depend on weather conditions. Science of the Total Environment 807: 150763. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.150763.

Colombi T, Chakrawal A, Herrmann AM (2022). Carbon supply-consumption balance in plant roots – Effects of carbon use efficiency and root anatomical plasticity. New Phytologist 233: 1542-1547. doi: 10.1111/nph.1759

Longepierre M, Widmer F, Keller T, Weisskopf P, Colombi T, Büchler U, Six, J, Hartmann M (2021). Limited resilience of the soil microbiome to mechanical compaction within three years of agricultural management. ISME Communications 1: 44. doi: 10.1038/s43705-021-00046-8 

Sjulgård H, Iseskog D, Kirchgessner N, Bengough, AG, Keller T, Colombi T (2021). Reversible and irreversible root phenotypic plasticity under fluctuating soil physical conditions. Environmental and Experimental Botany 188: 104494. doi: 10.1016/j.envexpbot.2021.104494

Weih M, Liu H, Colombi T, Keller T, Jäck O, Vallenback P, Westerbergh A (2021). Evidence for magnesium-phosphorus synergism and co-limitation of grain yield in wheat agriculture. Scientific Reports 11: 9012. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-88588-8

Keller T, Colombi T, Ruiz S, Schymanski S, Weisskopf P, Koestel J, Sommer M, Stadelmann V, Breitenstein D, Kirchgessner N, Walter A, Or D (2021). Soil structure recovery following compaction – short‐term evolution of soil physical properties in a loamy soil. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 18: 1-19. doi: 10.1002/saj2.20240

Liu H, Fiorani F, Jäck O, Colombi T, Nagel KA, Weih M (2021). Shoot and root traits underlying genotypic variation in early vigor and nutrient accumulation in spring wheat grown in high-latitude light conditions. Plants 10: 174. doi: 10.3390/plants10010174

Hirte J, Walder F, Hess J, Büchi L, Colombi T, van der Heijden MGA, Mayer J (2021). Enhanced root carbon allocation through organic farming is restricted to topsoils. Sci Total Environ 755: 143551. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.143551

Colombi T, Kirchgessner N, Iseskog D, Alexandersson S, Larsbo M, Keller T (2021). A time-lapse imaging platform for quantification of soil crack development due to simulated root water uptake. Soil Tillage Res 205: 104769 .doi: 10.1016/j.still.2020.104769

Williams H, Colombi T, Keller T (2020). The influence of soil management on soil health: an on-farm study in southern Sweden. Geoderma 360: 114010. doi: 10.1016/j.geoderma.2019.114010

Herrmann AM, Colombi T (2019). Energy use efficiency of root growth – a theoretical bioenergetics framework. Plant Signaling & Behavior 14: e1685147 . doi: 10.1080/15592324.2019.1685147

Keller T, Sandin M, Colombi T, Horn, R, Or, D (2019). Historical evolution of soil stress levels and consequences for soil functioning. Soil Tillage Res 194: 104293. doi: 10.1016/j.still.2019.104293

Colombi T, Herrmann AM, Vallenback P, Keller T (2019). Cortical cell diameter is key to energy costs of root growth in wheat. Plant Physiol 180: 2049–2060. Plant Physiol 174: 2289–2301. doi: 10.1104/pp.19.00262

Colombi T, Keller T (2019). Developing strategies to recover crop productivity after soil compaction – A plant eco-physiological perspective. Soil Tillage Res 191: 156–161. doi: 10.1016/j.still.2019.04.008

Colombi T, Walder F, Büchi L, Sommer M, Liu K, Six J, van der Heijden MGA, Charles R, Keller T (2019). On-farm study reveals positive relationship between gas transport capacity and organic carbon content in arable soil. SOIL 5: 91-105. doi: 10.5194/soil-5-91-2019

Colombi T, Torres LC, Walter A, Keller T (2018). Feedbacks between soil penetration resistance, root architecture and water uptake limit water accessibility and crop growth – a vicious circle. Sci Total Environ 626: 1026-1035. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.01.129

Colombi T, Kirchgessner N, Walter A, Keller T (2017). Root tip shape governs root elongation rate under increased soil strength. Plant Physiol 174: 2289–2301

Colombi T, Braun S, Keller T, Walter A (2017). Artificial macropores attract crop roots and enhance plant productivity on compacted soils. Sci Total Environ 574: 1283–129

Keller T, Colombi T, Ruiz S, Manalili MP, Rek J, Stadelmann V, Wunderli H, Breitenstein D, Reiser R, Oberholzer H, et al (2017). Long-term soil structure observatory for monitoring post-compaction evolution of soil structure. Vadose Zone Journal. doi: 10.2136/vzj2016.11.011

Colombi T, Walter A (2017). Genetic diversity under soil compaction in wheat: root number as a promising trait for early plant vigor. Front Plant Sci 8: 1–14. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2017.00420

Colombi T, Walter A (2016). Root responses of triticale and soybean to soil compaction in the field are reproducible under controlled conditions. Funct Plant Biol 43: 114–128

Pfeifer J, Kirchgessner N, Colombi T, Walter A (2015). Rapid phenotyping of crop root systems in undisturbed field soils using X-ray computed tomography. Plant Methods. doi: 10.1186/s13007-015-0084-4

Colombi T, Kirchgessner N, Le Marié CA, York LM, Lynch JP, Hund A (2015). Next generation shovelomics: set up a tent and REST. Plant Soil 388: 1–20


Researcher at the Department of Soil and Environment; Mark och miljö, Markmekanik och jordbearbetning
Telephone: +4618672327, +46722021483
Postal address:
Box 7014
750 07 Uppsala
Visiting address: Lennart Hjelms väg 9, Uppsala