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The influence of local elevation on soil properties and tree health in remnant eucalypt woodlands affected by secondary salinity

Cramer, V.A., Hobbs, R.J., Atkins, L. and Hodgson, G. (2004) The influence of local elevation on soil properties and tree health in remnant eucalypt woodlands affected by secondary salinity. Plant and Soil, 265 (1-2). pp. 175-188.

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More than 2 M ha of remnant vegetation in Australia is predicted to be at risk from shallow water tables by 2050. Currently, vegetation is considered to be at risk where the water table is predicted to be less than 2 m below the soil surface, yet casual observation of areas affected by secondary salinity in the Western Australian wheatbelt has suggested that small differences in elevation (< 0.5 m) are important in determining plant health. In this study, we investigated how small changes in elevation (and hence depth to the water table) affected soil Cl concentrations and water contents, and whether small changes in elevation were associated with major changes in tree health in two remnants of Eucalyptus wandoo Blakely woodland with secondary salinity. At one site there were strong dissimilarities between soil samples collected above or below relative elevations of 0.5 m in areas with a shallow (0.3 m deep in September 2001) and saline water table. This was reflected in almost complete tree mortality at relative elevations below 0.5 m. However, low rainfall in 2001 meant that it was unlikely that current soil conditions had caused tree death. When water table data for 1999 was overlaid over plots of tree health and transect topography, high levels of tree mortality corresponded with areas where the water table was at or above the ground surface. At the other site, there was no clear relationship between elevation, soil characteristics and tree health. Localised variation in abiotic conditions and ecosystem processes at a fine-scale may buffer, to some extent, the spatial impact of soil salinity and waterlogging in remnant vegetation. Collapses in tree health at some sites are likely to be related to extreme and episodic events, which we may have limited ability to predict.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Environmental Science
Publisher: Kluwer Academic Publishers
Copyright: © 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers.
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