Nutrient limitation of plant growth on the floodplain of the Narran River, Australia: growth experiments and a pilot soil survey

Ralph Ogden, Martin Thoms

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    Abstract

    Water resource development has altered the hydrological regime on the Lower Balonne River in Queensland, Australia. Concerns have been raised about possible impacts to floodplain plant communities, which support a pastoral industry and a range of native fauna. Water and nutrients commonly limit plant growth in south central Queensland, where the climate is semi-arid and the soils are infertile. Floodplain plant productivity is boosted by inundation with water, but the role of flooding in nutrient provision is not known. Growth experiments and a pilot soil survey were conducted to help determine if soil nutrient deficiencies exist and if regular flooding is required to maintain floodplain soil fertility. Soils were sampled from areas representing three flood frequency classes: high, moderate, and low. Chemical extractions were performed as a surrogate for `bioavailable' nutrients. Soil nitrogen (N) but not phosphorus (P) limited the growth of seedlings of wheat (Triticum aestivum L. Gardia) based on responses to nutrient additions: plants supplied with N had greater shoot length and total biomass than plants without N. Clear evidence of an effect of flood frequency on fertility was not revealed. Neither soil P, soil N, nor plant growth varied significantly with flood frequency. However, this analysis had low statistical power. There were trends for greater biomass of seedlings grown on moderately flooded soils and thinner roots for seedlings grown on frequently flooded soils, but neither of these growth responses was clearly linked to nutrient limitation. Nevertheless, the possibility that flooding provides a nutrient subsidy to plants cannot be ruled out because of a number of factors, including the statistical power of this analysis and the possibility that short-term nutrient subsidies occur with floods
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)277-285
    Number of pages9
    JournalHydrobiologia: the international journal on limnology and marine sciences
    Volume489
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2002

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