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 Table of Contents  
ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Year : 2016  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 21-27

Saltgrass, a Minimum Water and Nutrient Requirement Halophytic Plant Species for Sustainable Agriculture in Desert Regions


School of Plant Sciences, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, The University of Arizona, Tucson AZ 85721, USA

Date of Web Publication4-May-2016

Correspondence Address:
Prof. Mohammad Pessarakli
School of Plant Sciences, The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721
USA
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2423-7752.181803

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  Abstract 

Context: Desertification of arable lands due to global warming and water shortage mandates use of low-quality water for irrigation. Using low-quality water imposes more stress on plants which are already under stress. Thus, there is an urgent need for finding stress tolerant plant species to survive/sustain under such stressful conditions. Since the native plants are already growing under such conditions and are adapted to these stresses, they are the most suitable candidates to be manipulated under the minimum cultural practices and minimum inputs for use under stress. If stress tolerant species/genotypes of the native plants are identified, there would be a substantial savings in cultural practices and inputs in using them. Aim: This grass has multi usages, including animal feed, soil conservation, saline soils reclamation, use in desert landscaping, and combating desertification. The objectives of this study were to find the most salinity and drought tolerant of various saltgrass genotypes for use in arid regions, where limited water supplies coupled with saline soils result in drought and salinity stresses. Materials and Methods: Various genotypes of saltgrass were studied in a greenhouse either hydroponically in culture solution for salt tolerance or in large galvanized cans contained fritted clay for drought tolerance. For the salinity stress tolerance, twelve inland saltgrass clones were studied in a greenhouse, using hydroponics technique to evaluate their growth responses under salt stress. Four salt treatments (EC 6, 20, 34, and 48 dS/m salinity stress) were replicated 3 times in a randomized complete block design experiment. Grasses were grown under these conditions for 10 weeks. During this period, shoots were clipped bi-weekly, clippings were oven dried at 75°C and dry matter (DM) weights were recorded, shoot and root lengths were also measured. At the last harvest, roots were also harvested, oven dried, and DM weights were determined. Grass quality was weekly evaluated and recorded. Although all the grasses showed a high level of salinity tolerance, there was a wide range of variations observed in salt tolerance of these saltgrass clones. For the drought tolerance study, 21 saltgrass clones were studied to evaluate their growth responses under drought stress. Plants were grown under normal condition for 6 months for complete establishment. Then, they were deprived from water for 4 months. Plant shoots were harvested weekly and oven dried at 75°C for DM weight determination. At each harvest, percentages of plant green covers were also estimated and recorded. Both the shoot dry weights and the percent of plant visual green cover decreased as drought period progressed. Results: Although all the grasses exhibited a high level of drought tolerance, there was a wide range of variations observed in various clones' responses. The superior salinity and drought stress tolerant genotypes were identified to be used for biological salinity control or reclamation of desert saline soils and combating desertification. Conclusion: My investigations at the University of Arizona on saltgrass (Distichlis spicata L.), a halophytic plant species, have indicated that this plant has an excellent drought and salinity tolerance with a great potential to be used under harsh environmental conditions.

Keywords: Arid regions, combating desertification, drought, saltgrass, saline soil reclamation, salt stress, sustainable agriculture


How to cite this article:
Pessarakli M. Saltgrass, a Minimum Water and Nutrient Requirement Halophytic Plant Species for Sustainable Agriculture in Desert Regions. J Earth Environ Health Sci 2016;2:21-7

How to cite this URL:
Pessarakli M. Saltgrass, a Minimum Water and Nutrient Requirement Halophytic Plant Species for Sustainable Agriculture in Desert Regions. J Earth Environ Health Sci [serial online] 2016 [cited 2019 Sep 22];2:21-7. Available from: http://www.ijeehs.org/text.asp?2016/2/1/21/181803


  Introduction Top


Saltgrass (Distichlis spicata L.) Greene var. stricta (Gray) Beetle, [1] indigenous to the Southwest, a potential animal feed plant, saline soil reclamation, soil establishment/erosion control, and use as a turfgrass species for lawns/recreation areas, grows in very poor to fair condition soils, in both salt-affected soils and drought and harsh environmental conditions. [1],[2] Its dominant and most common habitats are arid and semi-arid regions. [3],[4],[5],[6],[7],[8] The plant is abundantly found in areas of the western parts of the United States as well as on the sea-shores of several Middle-Eastern countries, Africa, South and Central American countries. [4],[5],[6],[7],[8],[9],[10]

The species can be manipulated to modify its performance and increase its yield and productivity. This plant has multi-purpose usages. It can be substituted for animal feeds like alfalfa, used for biological reclamation of saline soils, soil conservation and erosion control for covering roadsides and soil surfaces in lands with high risks of erosion, and use as a turfgrass species.

The United States Golf Association (USGA) and the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have shown a great deal of interest in financing research work on this plant to use it as a turfgrass or for soil erosion control and saline soil reclamation. Most of these research works have been conducted at the University of Arizona and Colorado State University. Consequently, USGA and BLM funds for the investigations on this grass species have been allocated to these institutions. Positive and promising results have already been obtained from these studies. [3],[5],[6],[7],[8],[9],[10],[11],[12],[13],[14],[15],[16],[17],[18],[19],[20],[21],[22],[23],[24],[25],[26],[27],[28]

Most of the published reports on saltgrass, including those of Sigua and Hudnall (1991), Sowa and Towill (1991), Enberg and Wu (1995), Miyamoto et al. (1996), Rossi et al. (1996), and Miller et al. (1998), are concern only with the growth of this species, usually concentrated only on one grass genotype or the species of a specific location. [29],[30],[31],[32],[33],[34]

The objectives of the following studies were to find the most salinity or drought tolerant of various saltgrass genotypes and to recommend them as the potential species for use under arid, semi-arid, and areas with saline soils and limited water supplies or drought conditions for sustainable agriculture and combating desertification.


  Experiment 1: Salt Stress Tolerance Study Materials and Methods Top


Plant materials

Twelve inland saltgrass (D. spicata L.) clones (A37, A49, A50, A60, 72, A86, A107, A126, A136, A138, 239, and 240), collected from different locations in several western states of the United States (Arizona, California, Nevada, and Colorado) were used in a greenhouse experiment to evaluate their growth responses in terms of shoot and root lengths as well as shoot and root dry weights, and visual grass quality under different levels of salinity stress conditions, using a hydroponics technique.

Plant establishment

The plants were grown as vegetative propagules in cups, 9 cm diameter and cut to 7 cm height. Silica sand was used as the plant anchor medium. The cups were fitted in plywood lid holes and the lids were placed on 42 cm × 34 cm × 12 cm Carb-X polyethelene tubs containing half-strength Hoagland nutrient solution. [35] Three replications of each treatment were used in a randomized complete block design in this investigation. The plants were allowed to grow in this nutrient solution for 8 weeks. During this period, the plant shoots were harvested weekly to reach full maturity and develop uniform and equal size plants. The harvested plant materials were discarded. The culture solutions were changed bi-weekly to ensure adequate amount of plant essential nutrient elements for normal growth and development. At the last harvest, 10 th week, the roots were also cut to 2.5 cm length to have plants with uniform roots and shoots for the stress phase of the experiment.

Salt treatments

The salt treatments were initiated by gradually raising the electrical conductivity (EC) of the culture medium to 6, 20, 34, and 48 dS/m by adding Instant Ocean salt to the nutrient solutions, followed procedures used by Pessarakli and Kopec (2005, 2006). [20],[21] The EC of the culture solutions were raised by increments of 6 (first day) and 7 every other day until the desired EC levels were reached. Four treatments were used, including control (EC = 6 dS/m, several of my salinity stress experiments showed that saltgrass at relatively low level of salinity for this high salinity tolerant halophytic grass performs better than growing in normal condition, therefore, for the control, usually, I use EC = 6 dS/m), 20, 34, and 48 dS/m (EC = 48 dS/m is a good representative of the EC of sea water which is normally between 30 and 60 dS/m). The culture solution levels in the tubs were marked at the 10 L volume, and the solution conductivities were monitored/adjusted to maintain the prescribed treatment salinity levels. After the final salinity levels had been reached, the shoots and the roots were harvested, and the harvested plant materials were discarded before the beginning of the data collection of the salinity stress phase of the experiment.

Then, plant shoots were harvested bi-weekly for 10 weeks for the evaluation of the dry matter (DM) production. At each harvest, both shoot and root lengths were measured and recorded. The harvested plant materials were oven dried at 75°C and DM weights were measured and recorded. The recorded data were considered the bi-weekly plant DM production. At the termination of the experiment, the last harvest, plant roots were also harvested, oven dried at 75°C, and dry weights were determined and recorded. Weekly visual evaluation of the grass quality was also performed and recorded.

The data were subjected to analysis of variance, using SAS statistical package (SAS Institute, Inc. 1991 SAS Institute, 1991, Raleigh, NC). [36] The means were separated, using Duncan Multiple Range test.


  Results and Discussion Top


Shoot dry matter weight

The shoot DM weights of all the saltgrass clones decreased with increased salinity stress level. A marked reduction in shoot dry weights occurred at the higher salinity levels (EC 34 and EC 48 dS/m) across all the clones [Table 1]. For the dry weights of the shoots, the gap between the means of the stressed plants and the control (EC = 6 dS/m) was wider as the exposure time to salinity stress progressed.
Table 1: Saltgrass shoot dry weight (dry matter) under salt stress


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Root dry matter weight

The effect of salinity on root dry weight was less severe compared to that of shoot dry mass [Table 2]. Similar results were reported on different genotypes/accessions/clones of this grass in other study. [3],[4],[6],[8],[9],[10],[19],[20],[21],[24],[27] Sagi et al. (1997) and Pessarakli and Tucker (1985, 1988) also found the adverse effect of salinity stress was more pronounced on plant shoots than the roots. [37],[38],[39] This is a common phenomenon in halophytic plant species that usually under salinity stress conditions, their shoots are more severely affected than their roots.
Table 2: Saltgrass root dry weight (dry matter) (cum. values) under salt stress


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Clone 240 had excellent root growth at EC 6 dS/m and the second highest root production at EC 48 dS/m [Table 2], but had poor quality under high salinity level. The same was true for clone 239. Clone A138 had twice the root mass of most other clones at EC 48 dS/m, but essentially had no green foliage at EC 48 dS/m at the close of the test.

At EC 6 dS/m, clone A128 produced twice the test mean average for roots (3.46 g) with fairly good absolute root production afterward, but showing a significant change in root production as EC levels increased [Table 2].

Although the root dry weight was enhanced at the lower level of salinity for most of the clones, there was not statistically significant difference detected between the means of the different treatments [Table 2].

Grass visual quality

Any level of salinity stress had a significant adverse effect on the grass visual quality [Table 3]. Quality scores for various clones ranged from 9.7 to 2.6 at different salinity stress levels. At EC 20 dS/m, quality scores ranged from 5.1 to 9.7 [Table 3] throughout the entire test. As shown in [Table 3], all clonal entries had good quality and full maintenance of green tissue retention at EC 6 dS/m at the end of the trial.
Table 3: Saltgrass visual quality under salinity stress


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The grass (clone) × EC interaction effect was significant for the visual quality, showing that some clones quality decreased at different rates for overall quality as salinity stress level increased [Table 3].

After 10 weeks growth at EC 34 dS/m (salinity level equal to that of sea level salinity), entries 239 and 240 were the only clones to have quality ratings of 6 (acceptable quality, on the scale of 1-10) or greater [Table 3]. These two clones represented the best quality clones at EC 34 dS/m at the end of the test.

At EC 48 dS/m, no entries produced an acceptable plant quality (scores of 6 or higher). Most clones decreased in (final) quality as EC increased from EC 6 to EC 48 dS/m, but the entries 239 and 240 showed a more of typical halophytic response, having an increase in quality at EC 20 dS/m over that observed at EC 6 dS/m [Table 3].

Salt tolerance ranking of the various clones of saltgrass

Salinity tolerance ranking of the various saltgrass clones used in this study based on shoot DM weight, root DM weight, grass visual quality, or overall ranking considering all the study parameters together, are presented in [Table 4].
Table 4: Salt tolerance ranking of saltgrass based on shoot weight, root weight, or grass visual quality


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Although there are some minor differences in salt tolerance ranking of the clones when compared based on shoot DM weight, root DM weight, or grass visual quality, the overall ranking is the best representation of the salinity tolerance of the various tested clones.

Considering all the study parameters together, there was a wide range of salinity tolerance found among the 12 saltgrass clones. The 240 and 239 clones were the most salt tolerant clones (especially, up to EC of 34 dS/m) followed by A128, 72, A138. These were closely followed by A50, A86, and A49 in salinity tolerance. A49 clone laid between this and the last group in regards to salinity tolerance. A60, A107, A37, and A126 were among the lowest salinity tolerant grasses which the A126 was the least tolerant clone.


  Conclusions Top


The results of the shoot and the root dry mass and the visual grass quality showed that the maintenance of green foliage and tolerance under saline hydroponic conditions are under physiological conditions/adjustments that are not totally related to DM production in shoots and roots. This was corroborated by the results that clones which maintained the highest quality under EC 34 dS/m exhibited either a large increase in root mass (i.e., clone 239) or only a small increase of the root mass (i.e., clone 240) produced at EC 6 dS/m. Likewise, clone A138 produced a large increase of its EC 6 dS/m root mass at the highest EC level of 48 dS/m. However, it could not maintain green foliage at 10 weeks of exposure to this high EC. The same was true for shoot DM production that occurred in a more narrow range of values than did root DM production.

In terms of salinity tolerance (quality), green foliage retention was empirically the best assessment of the clonal response to increased salinity. For large scale screening of saltgrass germplasm, the maintenance of green tissue at a specific EC level would seem to be adequate as a simple selection method for salinity tolerance.

Shoot and root lengths and dry weights decreased with increased salinity stress. However, shoots were more severely affected by salinity stress than the roots. Grass visual quality was significantly affected (lower quality) as the salinity levels of the culture solutions increased.

In short, saltgrass shoot DM weight decreased linearly with increased salinity levels for all clones. For most clones, there was no difference among the root DM of the grass at different salinity levels. Visual quality of the grass followed the same pattern as the shoot DM weight. It decreased linearly with increased salinity levels for all clones. Clones differed greatly in their maintenance of green color retention (quality) as EC levels (salinity) increased. Two clones which produced acceptable quality at the EC level of 34 dS/m were clones 239 and 240. No clones could maintain adequate quality color at EC level of 48 dS/m after 10 weeks of exposure at this EC level. The difference in salinity tolerance level among the clones was significant.

The grasses were separated in several groups with different degrees of salt tolerance. Considering all the study parameters together, there was a wide range of salinity tolerance found among the 12 saltgrass clones. The 240 and 239 clones were the most salt tolerant clones (especially, up to EC of 34 dS/m) followed by A128, 72, and A138. These were closely followed by A50, A86, and A49 in salinity tolerance. A49 clone laid between this and the last group in regards to salinity tolerance. A60, A107, A37, and A126 were among the lowest salinity tolerant grasses which the A126 was the least tolerant clone.

Overall, the results of this investigation indicate that saltgrass is a very high salinity tolerant species, and the results further suggest that this grass growing even under poor soil conditions (salt-affected desert soils) can be a suitable and beneficial plant species for growth and production in arid regions, and still show a favorable growth.


  Experiment 2: Drought Stress Tolerance Study Materials and Methods Top


Plant materials

Various clones (A37, A49, A50, A60, 72, A86, A107, A126, A128, A138, 239, and 240) of inland saltgrass collected from several southwestern states of the USA that were used in Experiment 1 (Salt Stress Tolerance) were used in this study too.

Plant establishment

The grasses were grown as vegetative propagules in cups, 9 cm diameter and cut to 7 cm height. Cups were placed in stainless steel galvanized cans (45.7 cm diameter, 55.9 cm height), filled with 150 kg fritted clay as plant anchor medium.

Two mowing heights (2.5 and 5 cm) and 3 replications of each mowing height were used in a split plot design, where drought stress was tested as whole plots, with mowing height and grass selection combinations appearing as sub-plots, in this investigation.

The grasses were grown under normal condition (daily irrigation, weekly fertilization, and weekly clipping [clippings discarded]) for 6 months to produce equal size and uniform plants before the initiation of the drought stress phase of the experiment.

Drought stress

A dry-down fritted clay system which mimics progressive drought [40] was used in this investigation. This procedure has been used successfully in our previous drought stress studies. [5],[7],[23],[25],[26] The system imposes a gradually prolonged drought stress to plants (i.e., various saltgrass clones) planted in separate cups (experimental units).

The drought stress started by completely saturating the cans containing 150 kg fritted clay and the cups containing the grasses, then depriving the grasses from water and fertilizer for 4 months. During the stress period, while there was measurable growth (14 weeks, 7 bi-weekly harvests), shoots were clipped bi-weekly for the evaluation of growth and DM production. The harvested plant materials were oven dried at 75°C and DM weights were measured and recorded. The recorded data were considered the bi-weekly plant DM production. The grass visual quality was weekly evaluated and recorded.

Two months after the initiation of the drought period, the first sign of stress (leaf curling) was shown. Grasses gradually showed more signs of wilting (finally, permanent wilting and eventually death or dormancy). At the end of the 4-month drought stress period, the majority of the plants were either dead or gone to dormancy stage. Then, all the grasses were re-watered for the recovery rate determination.

Statistical analysis

Data were subjected to the analysis of variance technique (SAS Institute, Inc. 1991). [36] The means were separated using Duncan Multiple Range test.


  Results and Discussion Top


Shoot length

For most of the clones, shoot length was decreased more by drought stress at the 2.5 than at the 5 cm mowing height [Table 5].
Table 5: Saltgrass shoot length and dry matter weight (average of 3 replications and 7 bi-weekly harvests) under drought stress condition at 2 mowing heights


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There was a wide range of differences found in shoot lengths among the clones at either 2.5 or 5 cm mowing height. The shoot length of A128 clone was the highest at either mowing height. The shoot lengths of clones 239 and 240 which are turf type grasses were the lowest at either 2.5 or 5 cm mowing height. There was not a significant difference detected between the shoot lengths of either one of these clones at the 2.5 compared with the 5 cm mowing heights [Table 5].

Shoot dry matter weight

The shoot DM weight generally followed the same pattern as the shoot length, it decreased under drought stress at either 2.5 or 5 cm mowing height. However, in contrast to the shoot length, for most of the clones, shoot DM weight was higher at the 2.5 compared with the 5 cm mowing height [Table 5].

At both 2.5 and 5 cm mowing heights, clones 72 and 239 produced numerically the highest DM weights. However, there was not statistically a significant difference between the shoot DM weights of these two clones and A49, A50, A128, A138, and 240 at either mowing height [Table 5]. Among all the clones, clone A60 produced the lowest DM weight at either 2.5 or 5 cm mowing height.

Grass visual quality

The grass visual quality followed the same pattern as the shoot DM weight, it decreased by drought stress at either 2.5 or 5 cm mowing height [Table 6]. For most of the clones, grass visual quality was affected more by drought stress at the 5 than at the 2.5 cm mowing height. There was a wide range of differences found in grass visual quality among the clones at either 2.5 or 5 cm mowing height. Clone 72 had the best visual quality scores at either mowing height. At the 5 cm mowing height, statistically there was no difference between this clone and clones A138 and 239. At the 2.5 cm mowing height, clones A49, A138, 239, and 240 were statistically the same as clone 72. Under drought stress, clones A49, A50, A60, A126, and A128 scored the lowest at the 5 cm mowing height [Table 6]. At the 2.5 cm mowing height, clone A60 scored the lowest under drought stress. The scores of clone A50 was slightly higher (statistically not significant) than that of clone A60 at the 2.5 cm mowing height under drought stress [Table 6].
Table 6: Saltgrass quality (average of 3 replications and 14 weekly [7 bi-weekly] evaluations) under drought stress at 2 mowing heights


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  Conclusions Top


At either mowing height, saltgrass shoot length and shoot DM weight decreased linearly as drought period progressed. However, there were significant differences among the shoot lengths and DM weights of different clones at any mowing height and at each harvest. There was no difference among the shoot lengths or shoot DM weights of most clones between the two mowing heights. Visual quality of most clones followed the same pattern as the shoot DM weight. It decreased linearly as drought period progressed. However, visual qualities of various clones were significantly different than each other at either mowing height and at any weekly evaluation. Most of the clones at the 2.5 cm mowing height maintained their green color for longer period compared with those mowed at 5 cm. Considering all the study parameters together, there was a wide range of drought and mowing tolerance found among the various clones. Among all the studied clones, clone 72 was superior and the most tolerant to combined effects of drought and mowing stress, while clone A60 was the least tolerant one.

Overall, considering the results of both of these experiments, the following general conclusions can be drawn. Saltgrass is a true halophytic plant, very high tolerant to both salinity and drought stresses. Growing even under poor soil conditions (salt-affected desert soils) and drought (characteristics of the arid regions), saltgrass is a suitable and beneficial plant species for cultivation under arid and semi-arid regions, and shows a favorable growth and development with satisfactory soil surface coverage and yield under harsh desert environmental conditions. Consequently, saltgrass can be one of the most suitable plant species to be used for cultivation under arid, semi-arid regions, and areas with saline soils and limited water supplies or drought conditions. Therefore, this species can be successfully used for restoration of the arid lands and for sustainable agriculture in arid regions and combating desertification.

Acknowledgments

These studies (both salinity and drought experiments) were financially supported by grants from the United States Golf Association (USGA).

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

 
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  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5], [Table 6]


This article has been cited by
1 Candidate halophytic grasses for addressing land degradation: Shoot responses of Sporobolus airoides and Paspalum vaginatum to weekly increasing NaCl concentration
Mohammad Pessarakli,David D. Breshears,James Walworth,Jason P. Field,Darin J. Law
Arid Land Research and Management. 2017; 31(2): 169
[Pubmed] | [DOI]



 

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