Effects of Plants on Soil-Forming Processes: Case Studies from Arid Environments



Bulk deposits of aeolian sand accumulated over recent timescales provide instructive systems for examining effects of colonising vegetation on soil development. The two contrasting case studies presented here are eucalypt woodland in a dune system in southwest Australia and the rubified sand seas of the United Arab Emirates. In the former, clay pavements forming under the lateral root catchments of the eucalypts are shown to be constructed from iron, aluminium and other mineral elements abstracted from ground waters by deep roots. The pavements concerned have a marked restrictive influence on understorey density and biodiversity while also having an overall role in maximising effectiveness of usage of water and nutrients by the trees in question. Timescales and amounts of iron uplifted in this manner are estimated for the system. In the Arabian example, the occurrence of intense reddening (rubification) of sand towards the mountains of Oman is well known, and abiotic processes have been implicated in the phenomenon. In this chapter, we invoke involvement of a biotic component, having demonstrated a relationship between vegetation density and extent of rubification as seen in a positive correlation between increased reddening and cumulative vegetation encountered as one moves from coast to mountains. We hypothesise that uplift of iron by deep-rooted shrubs/trees might be the agent responsible for progressive reddening. Definitive testing of this hypothesis is required, particularly by analysing for iron in xylem sap flowing up through taproots and looking for evidence of its subsequent release into superficial layers of sand surrounding lateral roots of the trees.


Desert Hydraulic lift Iron Rubification Sand Trees 



We gratefully acknowledge assistance provided by the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD) and Dubai-based the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA). Iron oxide data was kindly provided by Kevin White of University of Reading. Andrew Buchanan and Phil Goulding helped prepare Figs. 17.1 , 17.2 and 17.4 . The Australian component of this work was carried out with the support of the South Coast Natural Resource Management Incorporated. The drawing in Fig. 17.3a was kindly provided by Noel Schoknecht.


  1. Alsharhan AS, Kendall CGSC (2003) Holocene coastal carbonates and evaporites of the southern Arabian Gulf and their ancient analogues. Earth Sci Rev 61:191–243CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Al-Sulaimi JS, Pitty AF (1995) Original depositional model of wadi Al-Batin and its associated alluvial fan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Sediment Geol 97:203–229CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anton D, Ince F (1986) A study of sand colour and maturity in Saudi Arabia. Z Geomorphol NF 39:339–356Google Scholar
  4. Boogert NJ, Paterson DM, Laland KN (2000) The implications of niche construction and ecosystem engineering for conservation biology. BioScience 56:569–577Google Scholar
  5. Bresler H (1982) The north-eastern Rub al-Khali within the borders of the United Arab Emirates. Z Geomorphol NF 26:495–504Google Scholar
  6. Burgess SSO, Bleby TM (2006) Redistribution of soil water by lateral roots mediated by stem tissues. J Exp Bot 57:3283–3291CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dawson TE (1993) Hydraulic lift and water use by plants: implications for water balance, performance and plant-plant interactions. Oecologia 95:565–574Google Scholar
  8. Dawson TE, Pate JS (1996) Seasonal water uptake and movement in root systems of Australian phraeatophytic plants of dimorphic root morphology: a stable isotope investigation. Oecologia 107:13–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. EAD (2009) Soil survey of Abu Dhabi Emirate. Extensive survey, vol I. Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi, p 506Google Scholar
  10. Emerman SH, Dawson TE (1996) Hydraulic lift and its influence on the water content of the rhizosphere an example from sugar maple, Acer saccharum. Oecologia 108:273–278Google Scholar
  11. Garzanti E, Andò S, Vezzoli G, Dell’era D (2003) From rifted margins to foreland basins: investigating provenance and sediment dispersal across Desert Arabia (Oman, UAE). J Sediment Res 73:572–588CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Glennie KW (2001) Evolution of the Emirates’ land surface: an introduction. In: Hellyer P, Al-Abed I (eds) The United Arab Emirates: a new perspective. Trident Press, LondonGoogle Scholar
  13. Ludwig F, Dawson TE, Kroon H, Berendse F, Prins HHT (2003) Hydraulic lift in Acacia tortilis trees on an East African savanna. Oecologia 134:293–300Google Scholar
  14. Odling-Smee FJ, Laland KN, Feldman MW (2003) Niche construction: the neglected process in evolution, vol 37, Monographs in population biology. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  15. Pate JS, Verboom WH (2009) Contemporary biogenic formation of clay pavements by eucalypts: further support for the phytotarium concept. Ann Bot 103:673–685CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Pate JS, Woodall G, Jeschke WD, Stewart GR (1994) Root xylem transport of amino acids in the root hemiparasitic shrub Olax phyllanthi R.Br. (Olacaceae) and its multiple hosts. Plant Cell Environ 17:1263–1273CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Verboom WH, Pate JS (2006a) Bioengineering of soil profiles in semiarid ecosystems: the ‘phytotarium’ concept. A review. Plant Soil 289:71–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Verboom WH, Pate JS (2006b) Evidence of active biotic influences in pedogenetic processes. Case studies from semiarid ecosystems of south-west Western Australia. Plant Soil 289:103–121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Verboom WH, Pate JS, Aspandiar M (2010) Neoformation of clay in lateral root catchments of mallee eucalypts: a chemical perspective. Ann Bot 105:23–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Wagner CW, van der Togt C (1973) Holocene sediment types and their distribution in the southern Persian Gulf. In: Purser BH (ed) The Persian Gulf. Springer, New York, pp 123–155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. White K, Goudie AS, Parker A, Al-Farraj A (2001) Mapping the geochemistry of the northern Rub’ Al Khali using multispectral remote sensing techniques. Earth Surf Proc Landf 26:735–748CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Yi K, Menand B, Bell E, Dolan L (2010) A basic helix-loop-helix transcription factor controls cell growth and size in root hairs. Nat Genet 42:264–267CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Agriculture and FoodNarroginAustralia
  2. 2.School of Plant BiologyThe University of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  3. 3.Soil and Land Use ManagementEnvironment Agency-Abu DhabiAbu DhabiUAE
  4. 4.Soils and Water Sciences Department, Faculty of AgricultureFayoum UniversityFayoumEgypt
  5. 5.International Center for Biosaline AgricultureDubaiUAE

Personalised recommendations