Defining the waterlogging tolerance of Ornithopus spp. for the temperate pasture zone of southern Australia

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Increasing the area sown to Ornithopus spp. (serradella) can reduce overall fertiliser requirements in Australian permanent pastures owing to their greater nutrient-acquisition efficiency than that of more widely used pasture legumes such as Trifolium spp. However, uncertainty regarding waterlogging tolerance of Ornithopus spp. may restrict their adoption in the high-rainfall zone of southern Australia. The waterlogging tolerance of cultivars and accessions of three species of Ornithopus (O. compressus, O. sativus and O. pinnatus) was determined by comparing root and shoot growth of plants in deoxygenated, stagnant agar nutrient solution (simulated waterlogging) with growth in aerated nutrient solution. The responses were benchmarked against the known waterlogging-tolerant pasture legume Trifolium michelianum. All Ornithopus cultivars were highly impacted by the deoxygenated stagnant treatment, including those of the anecdotally waterlogging-tolerant O. pinnatus. The 14-day stagnant treatment reduced root dry mass by 32-62% and relative growth rate (RGR) of roots by 36-73%. At the same time, root porosity increased from 1.4% to 8.8%. Following a 14-day recovery period, during which plants were returned to aerated nutrient solution, Ornithopus spp. failed to increase their shoot RGR (particularly for O. sativus cultivars) however, root RGR returned to that of the aerated controls. The stagnant conditions inhibited transport of potassium (K+) to the shoots in all species, as evidenced by lower shoot tissue K+ concentrations, with O. compressus and O. sativus most adversely affected (45% and 48% of the tissue concentration of aerated control plants). We conclude that the suggested area for Ornithopus spp. adaptation should not preclude areas of high rainfall because they have root adaptations that would assist them in coping with transient water excess however, soil types and surface profiles conducive to long-term waterlogging should be avoided to negate significant productivity losses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)506-516
Number of pages11
JournalCrop and Pasture Science
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2020


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