Plant and Soil

, Volume 257, Issue 2, pp 249–260 | Cite as

Root-zone constraints and plant-based solutions for dryland salinity

  • Pichu Rengasamy
  • David Chittleborough
  • Keith Helyar


Limitations to agricultural productivity imposed by the root-zone constraints in Australian dryland soils are severe and need redemption to improve the yields of grain crops and thereby meet world demand. Physical, chemical and biological constraints in soil horizons impose a stress on the plant and restrict plant growth and development. Hardsetting, crusting, compaction, salinity, sodicity, acidity, alkalinity, nutrient deficiencies and toxicities due to boron, carbonates and aluminium are the major factors that cause these constraints. Further, subsoils in agricultural regions in Australia have very low organic matter and biological activity. Dryland salinity is currently given wide attention in the public debate and government policies in Australia, but they only focus on salinity induced by shallow groundwater. However, the occurrence of transient salinity in root-zone layers in the regions where water tables are deep is an important issue with potential for larger economic loss than water table-induced seepage salinity. Root-zone constraints pose a challenge for salinity mitigation in recharge as well as discharge zones. In recharge zones, reduced water movement in sodic horizons results in salt accumulation in the root zone resulting in chemical and physical constraints that reduce transpiration that, in turn, upsets salt balance and plant growth. High salinity in soil and groundwater restricts the ability of plants to reduce water table in discharge zones. Thus plant-based strategies must address different kinds of limitations in soil profiles, both in recharge and discharge zones. In this paper we give an overview of plant response to root-zone constraints but with an emphasis on the processes of salt accumulation in the root-zone of soils. We also examine physical and chemical methods to overcome subsoil limitations, the ability of plants to adapt to and ameliorate these constraints, soil modification by management of agricultural and forestry ecosystems, the use of biological activity, and plant breeding for resistance to the soil constraints. We emphasise that soil scientists in cooperation with agronomists and plant breeders should design site-specific strategies to overcome multiple soil constraints, with vertical and lateral variations, and to develop plant-based solutions for dryland salinity.

dryland salinity plant-based solutions root-zone constraints sodicity transient salinity 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pichu Rengasamy
    • 1
  • David Chittleborough
    • 1
    • 2
  • Keith Helyar
    • 3
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Earth and Environmental SciencesThe University of AdelaideGlen OsmondAustralia
  2. 2.Cooperative Research Centre for Plant-based Management of Dryland SalinityAustralia
  3. 3.NSW Agriculture, Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute, PMBWagga WaggaAustralia

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