Plant and Soil

, Volume 184, Issue 1, pp 75–84 | Cite as

Root dynamics of Melaleuca halmaturorum in response to fluctuating saline groundwater

  • Lisa J. Mensforth
  • Glen R. Walker


Melaleuca halmaturorum is a salt and waterlogging tolerant tree and thus often occurs in saline areas fringing permanent wetlands and in ephemeral swamps. The dominance of this tree in natural groundwater discharge areas may result in M. halmaturorum transpiration making a major contribution to groundwater discharge. To quantify this the seasonal changes in tree water sources in response to fluctuating soil salinity and waterlogging were examined. This study was conducted in a natural system where seasonally fluctuating saline groundwater (64 dS m−1; 0.3–1.2 m deep) allowed the patterns of M. halmaturorum root water uptake to be followed over a 15 month period. Tree water sources were examined using the naturally occurring stable isotopes of water, while new root growth was examined using a field root observation window and from soil cores. The presence of isotopic fractionation of 2H under conditions of soil salinity and waterlogging was tested in a glasshouse experiment. Measurements of soil and leaf water potential were also made to examine the possible water sources and limits to water uptake. No isotopic fractionation was found by tree roots under conditions of salinity and waterlogging. M. halmaturorum trees were active in taking up groundwater at most times and combined this with a shallower soil water source replenished by rainfall in winter. Water uptake was concentrated in the deeper parts of the soil profile when the groundwater was at its deepest and salt had accumulated in the surface soils, at the end of summer. When groundwater rose, at the end of winter, roots responded by extracting water from near the soil surface (0–0.1 m), at the new watertable. This pattern of water uptake in response to groundwater fluctuations and salt accumulation in the surface soil was also reflected in new root tip appearance at the root observation window. Fluctuations in leaf water potential fallowed fluctuations in surface soil (0.1 m depth) water potential at all times. In winter leaf water potential reflected the absolute values of the surface soil water potential but in summer it was between surface soil and groundwater water potentials. We conclude that M. halmaturorum used groundwater in summer and a combination of rainfall and groundwater from the surface soils in winter. The ability to take up water from saline substrates through the maintenance of low leaf water potential, combined with this ability to rapidly alter root water uptake in response to changes in soil water availability contributed to the survival of M. halmaturorum in this saline swamp.

Key words

leaf water potential Melaleuca halmaturorum root salinity soil water potential stable isotopes 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lisa J. Mensforth
    • 1
    • 2
  • Glen R. Walker
    • 1
  1. 1.CSIRO Division of Water Resources PMBAustralia
  2. 2.University of Adelaide, Botany DepartmentAdelaideAustralia

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