Response to non-uniform salinity in the root zone of the halophyte Atriplex nummularia: growth, photosynthesis, water relations and tissue ion concentrations

Nadia Bazihizina, Timothy D Colmer, Edward G Barrett-Lennard
Annals of Botany 2009, 104 (4): 737-45

BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Soil salinity is often heterogeneous, yet the physiology of halophytes has typically been studied with uniform salinity treatments. An evaluation was made of the growth, net photosynthesis, water use, water relations and tissue ions in the halophytic shrub Atriplex nummularia in response to non-uniform NaCl concentrations in a split-root system.

METHODS: Atriplex nummularia was grown in a split-root system for 21 d, with either the same or two different NaCl concentrations (ranging from 10 to 670 mm), in aerated nutrient solution bathing each root half.

KEY RESULTS: Non-uniform salinity, with high NaCl in one root half (up to 670 mm) and 10 mm in the other half, had no effect on shoot ethanol-insoluble dry mass, net photosynthesis or shoot pre-dawn water potential. In contrast, a modest effect occurred for leaf osmotic potential (up to 30 % more solutes compared with uniform 10 mm NaCl treatment). With non-uniform NaCl concentrations (10/670 mm), 90 % of water was absorbed from the low salinity side, and the reduction in water use from the high salinity side caused whole-plant water use to decrease by about 30 %; there was no compensatory water uptake from the low salinity side. Leaf Na(+) and Cl(-) concentrations were 1.9- to 2.3-fold higher in the uniform 670 mm treatment than in the 10/670 mm treatment, whereas leaf K(+) concentrations were 1.2- to 2.0-fold higher in the non-uniform treatment.

CONCLUSIONS: Atriplex nummularia with one root half in 10 mm NaCl maintained net photosynthesis, shoot growth and shoot water potential even when the other root half was exposed to 670 mm NaCl, a concentration that inhibits growth by 65 % when uniform in the root zone. Given the likelihood of non-uniform salinity in many field situations, this situation would presumably benefit halophyte growth and physiology in saline environments.

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