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Kelp (Laminaria digitata) increases germination and affects rooting and plant vigour in crops and native plants from an arable grassland in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland


Kelp and other seaweeds are traditionally used in many parts of the world as a soil amendment on arable fields. Seaweeds contain biochemical compounds that can act as plant growth regulators in terrestrial plants. In a low-intensity arable grassland in northwest Scotland an organic fertilizer, kelp (Laminaria digitata) has been used for hundreds of years, due to its anticipated positive effect as a soil conditioner and provider of plant nutrients. In this study the effects of kelp on germination and rooting of crops and native plants from this area were investigated in soil-free media. Germination was studied by incubation in the presence of kelp solutions. Rooting of plant cuttings was assessed after a pulse treatment with kelp solutions, and indole-3 acetic acid (IAA) as a reference plant growth regulator. Germination percentage of Plantago lanceolata, Trifolium repens and Avena strigosa seeds increased significantly when incubated with 0.05% kelp solutions. Total root weight and the individual weight of roots produced in cuttings of Vigna radiata and P. lanceolata were significantly increased when exposed to a 0.5% solution of kelp. Plant vigour, assessed visually, decreased significantly for P. lanceolata exposed to kelp at concentrations of 0.5 and 5.0% indicating the presence of a threshold level for an inhibitory effect of kelp at these concentrations, which may be due to high salinity. The results confirmed the presence of plant growth regulators in kelp, and indicates that amendment with kelp may potentially affect plant community composition. The threshold levels where some plants responded negatively to kelp amendment were close to or lower than the theoretical concentrations of kelp in soil water at field conditions with the current doses used on the machair, indicating that care should be taken in either administering kelp at the appropriate dose or leaching out salt before application.

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The authors would like to thank Jim McNicol (Biomathematics & Statistics Scotland) for advice on statistics, and Jacqueline Thompson (SCRI) for carrying out the elemental composition analysis of kelp. This work was funded by SCRI and the College of Life Science & Medicine at the University of Aberdeen. SCRI receives grant-in-aid support from The Scottish Government Rural and Environmental Research and Analysis Directorate.

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Correspondence to Blair M. McKenzie.

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Thorsen, M.K., Woodward, S. & McKenzie, B.M. Kelp (Laminaria digitata) increases germination and affects rooting and plant vigour in crops and native plants from an arable grassland in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. J Coast Conserv 14, 239–247 (2010).

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  • Kelp
  • Seaweed
  • Plant growth regulators
  • Germination
  • Rooting
  • Machair