Ecophysiological principles governing the zonation of puccinellia (Puccinellia ciliata) and tall wheatgrass (Thinopyrum ponticum) on saline waterlogged land in south-western Australia

Sommer Jenkins

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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    Puccinellia (puccinellia ciliata) and tall wheatgrass (Thinopyrum ponticum) often show ecological zonation in saline landscapes, with puccinellia occurring in less elevated more saline/waterlogged locations, and tall wheatgrass occurring in more elevated less saline/waterlogged locations. The aims of this study were to: (a) characterize the observed ecological zonation at a field site, (b) quantify the effects of variables likely to explain growth differences of the two plants in glasshouse experiments, and (c) identify and compare anatomical and physiological mechanisms that explain these zonation patterns. At an experiment in the field near Kojonup (0522824E, 6244579N), puccinellia was found to colonise the lower more severely salinised and waterlogged zones of the landscape, with tall wheatgrass occupying the higher less affected zones. These differences in zonation were clearly associated with variance in soil salinity and water-table depth. Glasshouse experiments in soil revealed that low pH values, low calcium concentrations and variation in salinity alone did not explain the ecological zonation observed in the field. However, there was a substantial difference in the responses of the two plant species to waterlogging in combination with salinity. Puccinellia grew better under saline waterlogged conditions than tall wheatgrass, which was associated with better regulation of Na+ and K+ under saline/waterlogged conditions than in tall wheatgrass. Under non-saline conditions, waterlogging (hypoxia) decreased shoot weights in puccinellia by 15% and in tall wheatgrass by 20%. Similar growth results were obtained in nutrient solution culture, where waterlogging was simulated by lowering the oxygen in solutions through bubbling with N2 gas. Under saline hypoxic conditions, puccinellia, compared to tall wheatgrass, showed increased growth and maintenance of selectivity of K+ over Na+ across adventitious roots. Solution experiments revealed adaptive traits responsible for conveying better growth and ion maintenance present in puccinellia, but not tall wheatgrass, such as inducement of a barrier to radial oxygen loss in the basal regions of adventitious roots (not previously reported in the literature for puccinellia), formation of root aerenchyma and packing of cortical cells and suberin deposition in hypodermal and endodermal root cell layers. These results should assist in targeting pasture species, and predicting their growth response, in saline and waterlogged landscapes. Further work on examining the genetic material of puccinellia is warranted in order to identify genes that could be transferred into crop plants to convey salt and waterlogging tolerance.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2007


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