Drought deaths in Eucalyptus globulus (Labill.) plantations in relation to soils, geomorphology and climate
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- Harper, R.J., Smettem, K.R.J., Carter, J.O. et al. Plant Soil (2009) 324: 199. doi:10.1007/s11104-009-9944-x
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The occurrence of tree deaths in young, 3 to 6 year old Eucalyptus globulus plantations established on farmland in south-western Australia was found to be strongly related to factors indicative of poor soil water storage capacity. Seven years after planting tree survival was significantly less on soils <2 m deep compared to >2 m deep (22% vs 70%). This is due to the limited ability of some soils to store a sufficient proportion of the annual rainfall within the root-zone to meet the plant water demand in a region with a recurrent annual summer drought. There are practical difficulties in routinely surveying soils to depths in excess of 2 m over broad areas, to predict the likelihood of tree death. On the granitic basement rocks of south-west Western Australia, the occurrence of ferricrete gravels provides a useful surrogate indicator for the presence of deeper soils. In this region the distribution of soil depth and soil fertility has a geomorphic basis, being related to previous patterns of deep weathering and regolith stripping. Soils have developed on various horizons of deeply weathered profiles, formed from granites and gneisses. These materials have been stripped to a variable extent by erosion, leading to a range of soil depths. The original weathered profiles, which correspond to the soils with ferricrete gravels, comprise the deepest soil/regolith materials (~30-50 m deep); whereas along drainage lines the regolith has been completely stripped, the soils are shallow and plantations are most susceptible to drought. Knowledge of the relationship between soil depth and plantation performance allows regional indications of drought risk to be developed from regional soil mapping and the production of more efficient sampling designs for site assessment.