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Effect of water harvesting on growth of young olive trees in degraded Syrian dryland

Abstract

Olive (Olea europaea L.) is a drought-tolerant tree which is usually grown in areas with a Mediterranean climate that receive >350 mm of annual rainfall. However, olive growing in Syria has recently expanded into drier areas (200–300 mm annual rainfall) where irrigation resources are limited. This study, carried out between November 2002 and October 2005, aimed to investigate the response of a little known Syrian drought-tolerant olive variety (Qaisi) to water harvesting and limited summer irrigation (200 l per tree) in an arid area (average annual rainfall of 210 mm) with Mediterranean climate in Syria. Soil moisture and growth of four-year-old trees were monitored regularly. Olive leaves were sampled at different stages to determine water content, specific mass, and N content. Stomatal conductance was also measured in 2005. Our results showed that water harvesting and summer irrigation improved soil moisture content, leaf water content (up to 36% higher in Sep. 2003), leaf N content (up to 45% higher in Aug. 2003), leaf stomatal conductance (up to 55% higher in Apr. 2005), and relative trunk growth rate. Water harvesting was most successful in wet years, although the water storage capacity was not enough to retain all harvested water. This study indicated that it is possible to grow drought-tolerant olive varieties in arid areas under little or no irrigation, but proper water and nutrient management should be considered for sustainable growth.

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Acknowledgements

Thanks are due to Michael Zöbisch and Zuhair Masri for establishing the orchard. We would also like to acknowledge the technical help provided by Mohammad al-Ali and Ali Haj-Dibo and his staff. We are thankful to George Estefan and his staff for the analyses of soil and plant material. The cooperation of Faraj al-Issa, the farmer who allowed us to work on his land, was much appreciated. We would also like to express our gratitude to the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) for partially funding this work through KVIRS project.

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Correspondence to Ashraf Tubeileh.

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Tubeileh, A., Bruggeman, A. & Turkelboom, F. Effect of water harvesting on growth of young olive trees in degraded Syrian dryland. Environ Dev Sustain 11, 1073–1090 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10668-008-9167-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10668-008-9167-y

Keywords

  • Arid areas
  • ‘Qaisi’ olive
  • Degraded hillslopes
  • Soil moisture
  • Orchards
  • Sustainable water management
  • Plant water relations