Skip to main content
Log in

Evidence of active biotic influences in pedogenetic processes. Case studies from semiarid ecosystems of south-west Western Australia

  • Published:
Plant and Soil Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Soil profiles and rooting morphologies were examined under an ecotone where open woodland of multi-stemmed, small, lignotuberous eucalypts (mallee) graded into proteaceous heath. Soils under the mallee showed a Solonetz-type seal which separated, hydrologically, the upper acidic horizon of bleached sand from lower alkaline horizons rich in calcrete, silcrete, finely divided carbonates and clay. Seal composition appeared to vary consistently with overlying species of mallee. The generally acidic lateritic profiles under heath were rich in pisolithic ferricretes and displayed Fe-coated root channels. Both sets of taxa exhibited dimorphic rooting patterns, with ectomycorrhizal roots and seal-penetrating, second-order tap roots developed on the extensive lateral roots of mallee versus a dominance of primary tap roots and cluster root development on laterals of Proteaceae. Overprinting of ferricrete by clays and silicified material was evident where mallee appeared to have invaded areas of heath. Examination of other contemporary lateral facies changes and vertically-stacked paleosol formations in the study region provided corroborating evidence of similar profile attributes, including presence of Fe- or Si-lined root channels, overprinting phenomena and consistency in occurrences of ferricrete and calcrete as expected of each class of vegetation. Observations were related to the concepts of bioengineering of soil profiles through activity of macroflora and associated micro-organisms as set out more generally in our companion review.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  • Anand R, Paine M (2002) Regolith geology of the Yilgarn Craton, Western Australia: implications for exploration. Aust J Earth Sci 49:3

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Beard JS (1984) Biogeography of the Kwongan. In: Pate JS, Beard JS (eds) Kwongan, plant life of the Sandplain. University of Western Australia Press, Perth, pp 1–26

    Google Scholar 

  • Beard JS (1990) Plant life of Western Australia. Kangaroo Press, Kenthurst, Australia, 319 pp

    Google Scholar 

  • Bennett D, Speed R, Taylor P, Goodreid A (2005) Silcrete hardpan in the north-eastern wheatbelt: hydrological implications for oil mallees. Resource Management Technical Report 297, Department of Agriculture, Western Australia

    Google Scholar 

  • Bowler JM (1976) Aridity in Australia: age origins and expression in aeolian landforms and sediments. Earth-Sci Rev 12:279–310

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brewer R, Sleeman JR, Foster RC (1983) The fabric of Australian soils. In Soils an Australian Viewpoint. CSIRO Division of Soils, Melbourne, pp. 439–476

  • Caccetta PA, Allan A, Watson I (2000) The land monitor project. Proceedings of the Tenth Australasian Remote Sensing Conference, Adelaide, Australia

  • Craven LA, Lepschi BJ, Broadhurst L, Byrne M (2004) Taxonomic revision of the broombush complex in Western Australia (Myrtaceae, Melaleuca uncinata s.l). Aust Syst Bot 17:255–271

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Day RL, Laland KN, Odling-Smee FJ (2003) Rethinking adaptation: the niche-construction perspective. Perspect Biol Med 46:80–95

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • FAO (1998) The world reference base for soil resources (WRB), World Soil Resources Report No. 84. Food and Agriculture Organisation for the United Nations, Rome

    Google Scholar 

  • Field JB (2003) Biota, regolith and landscapes: at the hillslope, profile and lesser scales. In: Roach IC (ed). Advances in Regolith. Cooperative Research Centre for Landscape Environments and Mineral Exploration, Canberra, pp 115–118

    Google Scholar 

  • Fanning DS, Fanning MCB (1989) Soil: morphology, genesis, and classification. John Wiley & Sons, New York, p 347, 416

  • Fieldes M, Perrott KW (1966) Rapid field and laboratory test for allophane. New Zeal J Sci 9:623–629

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Glassford DK, Semeniuk V (1995) Desert-aeolian origin of late Cenozoic regolith and arid and semi-arid south-western Australia. Palaeogeogr Palaecl 114:131–166

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Griffin EA, Verboom WH, Allen D (2002) Paired site sampling to estimate soil carbon changes following land clearing in south-western Australia. Report prepared for Webnet Resource Services on behalf of the Australian Greenhouse Office

  • Green JW (1985) Census of the vascular plants of Western Australia, 2nd edn. Western Australian Herbarium, Department of Agriculture Perth

  • Hatton TJ, Bartle GA, Silberstein RP Salama RB, Hodgson G, Ward PR, Lambert P, Williamson DR (2002) Predicting and controlling water logging and groundwater flow in sloping duplex soils in Western Australia. Agr Water Manage 53:57–81

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hinsinger P (1998) How do plant roots acquire mineral nutrients? Chemical processes involved in the rhizosphere. Adv Agron 64:225–265

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Jones DL (1998) Organic acids in the rhizosphere: a critical review. Plant Soil 205:25–44

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Klute A (1986) Water retention: laboratory methods. In Klute A (ed) Methods of soil analysis, part 1, 2nd edn. Agron Monogr 9. ASA and SSSA, Madison, WI, pp 597–618

  • Lambers H, Juniper D, Cawthray GR, Veneklaas EJ, Martinez E (2002) The pattern of carboxylate exudation in Banksia grandis (Proteaceae) is affected by the form of phosphate added to the soil. Plant Soil 238:111–122

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • McArthur WM (1991) Reference soils of South-Western Australia. Department of Agriculture, Perth Western Australia

    Google Scholar 

  • McFadden LD, Amundson RG, Chadwick OA (1991) Numerical modelling, chemical and isotopic studies of carbonate accumulation in soils of arid regions. Soil Sci Soc Am Special Publication 26:17–35

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Nadezhdina N, Cermak J (2003) Instrumental methods for studies of structure and function of root systems of large trees. J Exp Bot 54:1511–1521

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Nulsen RA, Bligh KJ, Baxter IN, Solin EJ, Imrie DH (1986) The fate of rainfall in a mallee and heath vegetated catchment in southern Western Australia. Aust J Ecol 11:361–371

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pain CF, Ollier CD (1995) Inversion of relief; a component of landscape evolution. Geomorphology 12:151–165

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pate JS, Jeschke WD, Aylward MJ (1995) Hydraulic architecture and xylem structure of the dimorphic root system of S.W. Australian tree-species of Proteaceae. J Exp Bot 46:907–915

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Pate JS, Verboom WH, Galloway PD (2001) Co-occurrence of Proteaceae, laterite and related oligotrophic soils: coincidental associations or causative inter-relationships? Aust J Bot 49:529–560

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Retallack GJ (2001) Soils of the past. An introduction to paleopedology, 2nd edn. University of Oregon, Blackwell Publishing, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Shane MW, Lambers H (2005) Cluster roots: a curiosity in context. Plant Soil 274:101–125

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Stace HCT, Hubble GD, Brewer R, Northcote KH, Sleeman JR, Mulcahy MJ, Hallsworth EG (1968) A handbook of Australian soils. Rellim Technical Publications, Glenside, South Australia

    Google Scholar 

  • UTS Geophysics Pty Ltd (2005) Newdegate, Ravensthorpe regional magnetic and radiometric airborne geophysical data release Unique No. A6041067, Project No. 1067, Perth, Australia

  • Verboom WH, Galloway PD (2000) Hypothetical effects of rhizosphere associates of Proteaceae and their lateritic products on landscape evolution: explanatory descriptions from south-western Australia. In: Tang C, Williamson DR (eds) Proceedings of the Australian Society of Soil Science, Soils 2000 Conference. Muresk Institute of Agriculture, Western Australia, pp 24–35

    Google Scholar 

  • Verboom WH, Pate JS (2003) Relationships between cluster root-bearing taxa and laterite across landscapes in south west Western Australia: an approach using airborne radiometric and digital elevation models. Plant Soil 248:321–333

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Verboom WH, Pate JS (2006) Bioengineering of soil profiles in semiarid ecosystems: the ‘phytotarium’ concept. A review. Plant Soil

  • Walker J, Thompson CH, Fergus IF, Tunstall BR (1981) Plant succession and soil. development in coastal sand dunes of subtropical Eastern Australia. In: West DC, Shugart HH, Botkin DB (eds) Forest succession: concepts and application. Springer-Verlag, New York, pp 105–131

    Google Scholar 

  • Wildy DT, Pate JS (2002) Quantifying above- and below-ground growth responses of Western Australian oil mallee Eucalyptus kochii subsp. plenissima, to contrasting decapitation regimes. Ann Bot 90: 185–197

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Wildy DT, Pate JS, Bartle JR (2004) Budgets of water use by Eucalyptus kochii tree belts in semi-arid wheatbelt of Western Australia. Plant Soil 262:129–149

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Williams J (1983) Hydrologic properties and soil morphology. In Soils an Australian viewpoint. CSIRO Division of Soils, Melbourne, pp. 507–530

Download references


We thank Kim Brooksbank for loan of an air spade, Peter White, Gwen Warren, Anne Rick and Mike Hislop for identifying botanical specimens, Doug Sawkins for the photograph used in Figure 5b, David Hall for the retentivity data shown in Figure 8b and the Department of Conservation and Land Management for permission to dig in one of their reserves. Paul Galloway provided data on widths of major lateral roots of mallee and assisted with some of the field work and editing. Noel Schoknecht kindly provided the drawings used in Figures 4–7 and Alicia Gardner, Phil Goulding and Claire Robertson helped with preparation of some figures.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to W. H. Verboom.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Verboom, W.H., Pate, J.S. Evidence of active biotic influences in pedogenetic processes. Case studies from semiarid ecosystems of south-west Western Australia. Plant Soil 289, 103–121 (2006).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: