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Physiological and ecotypic adaptations of plants to salt desert conditions in Utah

, : Physiological and ecotypic adaptations of plants to salt desert conditions in Utah. Journal of Ecology 61(2): 473-494

Plant distribution in salt desert is economically important since the forage value of the species varies widely and the proportion of useful species determines the grazing value of the desert rangeland. 2 dominants, Atriplex confertifolia and Eurotia lanata, occurred in mosaics of slightly differing communities within a single zone of the halosere which surrounds the Great Salt Lake, whereas a subdominant, Atriplex nuttalii, was exceptionally widespread, occurring over an 80-fold range of salinity in several zones of the halosere. To investigate whether ecotypic variation might partly explain the observed differences in plant distribution the growth of the 3 species was measured in the field, in uniform conditions in the glasshouse and in graded salt solutions. In the field the yield of A. nuttalii increased as salinity decreased. Applied N had no effect on A. nuttallii and was detrimental to the use of salt desert as range. Major differences existed in the growth of A. nuttallii by the Great Salt Lake and at other points along the halosere. Pure stands of A. confertifolia and E. lanata yielded more of each species than did mixed communities including grasses. Total yields were similar in mixed communities and pure stands and interactions were found between species and community. The yield of A. confertifolia in mixtures was small in May and was decreased by applied N. Under uniform conditions ecotypes of A. nuttallii from saline sites yielded more than those from less saline sites. When plants of A. confertifolia and E. lanata from different communities were grown under uniform conditions their yields were similar. In solution-culture, species varied in their salt and B tolerance. Growth of E. lanata was decreased by increased salt and B, whereas that of A. nuttallii was increased. The salt response of A. nuttallii ecotypes was correlated with the salinity of their natural habitats. The ecotypes of A. nuttallii largely explained its distribution, but the mosaic distribution of Atriplex/Eurotia could not be explained.


DOI: 10.2307/2259040

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