Background and aims
Soils are composed of both fine and coarse materials. Coarse material (> 2 mm) is considered to be inert and is usually discarded in models of plant water balance, even though it affects soil properties. No studies have yet attempted to assess whether rock fragments may act as a water reservoir for plants.
Cuttings of Populus euramericana were planted in 5-L pots containing reconstituted soil made up of fine earth (silty clay loam texture) and either limestone or inert (quartz) pebbles (rock fragments 2–5 cm) at 0, 20, and 40% volume in a cross-factorial experiment. Two drought periods were applied and the growth, evapotranspiration, water stress status by stomatal conductance, and water content of the two soil phases (fine earth and pebbles) were monitored.
First, pebbles can contain water, and ignoring this water induced and underestimations of the soil available water content by respectively 11% and 30% for the treatment with 20% and 40% limestone pebbles. Second, the plants grown on limestone pebbles were up to 70% less stressed than the plants grown on inert pebbles during drought. Third, stomatal conductance, a water stress indicator, was correlated with the water content of both the fine earth and the limestone pebbles.
These results demonstrate that limestone rock fragments can retain available water and act as a reservoir during drought periods.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
available water capacity
water use efficiency
Babalola O, Lal R (1977) Subsoil gravel horizon and maize root growth - II. Effects of gravel size, inter-gravel texture and natural gravel horizon. Plant Soil 46:347–357. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00010091
Baetens JM, Verbist K, Cornells WM, Gabriels D, Soto G (2009) On the influence of coarse fragments on soil water retention. Water Resour Res 45. https://doi.org/10.1029/2008WR007402
Ballif JL (1980) Caractères et réserves hydriques des sols sur craie et sur graveluches en Champagne. Ann Agron 31:473–785
Beadle CL, Ludlow MM, Honeysett JL (1993) Water relations. In: Hall DO, Scurlock JMO, Bolhàr-Nordenkampf R, Leegood RC, Long SP (eds) Photosynthesis and production in a changing environment: a field and laboratory manual. Chapman & Hall, London
Burnham CP, Mutter GM (1993) The depth and productivity of chalky soils. Soil Use Manag 9:1–8. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-2743.1993.tb00919.x
Coile RS (1953) Moisture content of small stone in soils. Soil Sci 75:203–207
Cousin I, Nicoullaud B, Coutadeur C (2003) Influence of rock fragments on the water retention and water percolation in a calcareous soil. Catena 52:97–114
Coutadeur C, Cousin I, Nicoullaud B (2000) Influence de la phase caillouteuse sur la réserve en eau des sols. Cas des sols de Petite Beauce du Loiret Etude et Gestion des Sols 7: 191–203
Danalatos NG, Kosmas CS, Moustakas NC, Yassoglou N (1995) Rock fragments II their impact on soil physical properties and biomass production under Mediterranean conditions. Soil Use Manag 11:121–126. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-2743.1995.tb00509.x
Du Z, Cai Y, Yan Y, Wang X (2017) Embedded rock fragments affect alpine steppe plant growth, soil carbon and nitrogen in the northern Tibetan plateau. Plant Soil 420:79–92. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-017-3376-9
FAO (2006) Guidelines for soil description, Rome
Gras R (1994) Sols caillouteux et production végétale. INRA Editions
Gras R, Monnier G (1963) Contribution de certains éléments grossiers à l'alimentation en eau des végétaux. Sci Sol:13–20
Hlaváčiková H, Novák V, Šimůnek J (2016) The effects of rock fragment shapes and positions on modeled hydraulic conductivities of stony soils. Geoderma 281:39–48. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoderma.2016.06.034
Ingelmo F, Cuadrado S, Ibañez A, Hernandez J (1994) Hydric properties of some Spanish soils in relation to their rock fragment content: implications for runoff and vegetation. Catena 23:73–85. https://doi.org/10.1016/0341-8162(94)90054-X
IUSS Working Group WRB (2006) World reference base for soil resources 2006. World soil resources reports. 2nd edn. FAO, Rome
Klute A (1986) Methods of soil analysis, part 1, physical and mineralogical properties. Society, Madison. Soil science Society of America, American Society of Agronomy
Kosmas C, Moustakas N, Danalatos NG, Yassoglou N (1994) The effect of rock fragments on wheat biomass production under highly variable moisture conditions in Mediterranean environments. Catena 23:191–198. https://doi.org/10.1016/0341-8162(94)90060-4
Mi M, Shao M, Liu B (2016) Effect of rock fragments content on water consumption, biomass and water-use efficiency of plants under different water conditions. Ecol Eng 94:574–582. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoleng.2016.06.044
Parajuli K, Sadeghi M, Jones SB (2017) A binary mixing model for characterizing stony-soil water retention. Agric For Meteorol 244-245:1–8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agrformet.2017.05.013
Poesen J, Bunte K (1996) The effects of tock fragments on desertification processes in Mediterranean environments. In: Brandt CJ, Thornes JB (eds) Mediterranean desertification and land use. Wiley, Chichester
Poesen J, Lavee H (1994) Rock fragments in top soils- significance and processes. Catena 23:1–28. https://doi.org/10.1016/0341-8162(94)90050-7
Richards LA (1956) Sample retainers for measuring water retention. Soil Sci Soc Am J 20:301–303
Soil Survey Staff (2010) Keys to Soil Taxonomy. 11th Edition edn, Washington DC
Tetegan M, Nicoullaud B, Baize D, Bouthier A, Cousin I (2011) The contribution of rock fragments to the available water content of stony soils: proposition of new pedotransfer functions. Geoderma 165:40–49. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoderma.2011.07.001
Tetegan M, Korboulewsky N, Bouthier A, Samouelian A, Cousin I (2015a) The role of pebbles in the water dynamics of a stony soil cultivated with young poplars. Plant Soil 391:307–320. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-015-2429-1
Tetegan M, Richer de Forges AC, Verbeque B, Nicoullaud B, Desbourdes C, Bouthier A, Arrouays D, Cousin I (2015b) The effect of soil stoniness on the estimation of water retention properties of soils: a case study from Central France. Catena 129:95–102. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.catena.2015.03.008
Ugolini FC, Corti G, Agnelli A, Certini G (1998) Under- and overestimation of soil properties in stony soils. 16th World Congress of Soil Science, Montpellier, France
Zhang Y, Zhang M, Niu J, Li H, Xiao R, Zheng H, Bech J (2016) Rock fragments and soil hydrological processes: significance and progress. Catena 147:153–166. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.catena.2016.07.012
We thank Hervé Gaillard for his technical assistance at UR SOLS; the Inra Research Unit UMR BIOFORA, which provided us with the poplar cuttings; and Inra UE GBFOR, which provided and maintained the greenhouse equipment. We thank Vicky Moore for reviewing the English.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Responsible Editor: Rafael S. Oliveira.
Electronic supplementary material
About this article
Cite this article
Korboulewsky, N., Tétégan, M., Samouelian, A. et al. Plants use water in the pores of rock fragments during drought. Plant Soil 454, 35–47 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-020-04425-3
- Stony soil
- Rock fragments
- Water absorption
- Hydrological processes
- Water stress
- Stomatal conductivity