Impacts of dust on plant health, survivorship and plant communities in semi-arid environments

Mamoru Matsuki, Mark Gardener, A. Smith, R.K. Howard, A. Gove

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


© 2016 Ecological Society of Australia. There is a general perception that dust accumulation on plant surfaces causes negative impacts to plants. Consequently, it is common for environmental regulatory agencies to apply vegetation monitoring requirements to oil, gas and mining developments. We use two independent, medium-term monitoring studies in semi-arid Australia to examine this relationship at two scales: plant health and survivorship of a threatened subspecies (Tetratheca paynterae paynterae: Elaeocarpaceae) at Windarling Range between 2003 and 2014; and changes in plant health and floristic composition on Barrow Island between 2009 and 2014. Accumulation of dust decreased rapidly with distance from source. At Windarling Range, even at the site with the highest dust load, there was no significant impact on Tetratheca paynterae paynterae compared with the less dusty sites for 10years. Similarly, there was no significant effect between distance from the source of dust and floristic composition on Barrow Island for 5years. The probability of plants transitioning to a lower health condition between one year and the next did not appear to be related to dust load. This is further supported by comparing the same site before and after paving the road (removal of dust source), which showed no clear trends. Trends in plant health are likely to be driven more by the variability of cumulative rainfall in the preceding 5months than dust load. The observed temporal variation in the mean dust load may also be related to variation in rainfall. In conclusion, in these case studies from semi-arid Australia, we find no evidence to support the perception that, under the observed climatic condition and dust deposition rates up to 20 or 77gm-2 per month at Windarling Range and Barrow Island, respectively, dust accumulation on plants causes negative impacts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)423-433
Number of pages11
JournalAustral Ecology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016


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