Water penetration testView image slideshow

Project title: Soil water repellence in biodiverse semi arid environments: new insights and implications for ecological restoration

Dates: 2015

Funding: UWA Research Collaboration Award 2015

Location: Western Australia, Southern Europe

Research themes

  • soil hydrophobicity
  • soil infiltration
  • analysis of organic compounds by analytical pyrolysis
  • plant-soil interactions

Project description

Soil water repellency has critical implications for restoration of vegetation in degraded areas as it is responsible of poor plant establishment and a high incidence of erosion processes. Therefore, the study of the occurrence and causes of soil water repellency is critical for decision-making and action planning in ecological restoration.

Different organic substances are capable of inducing soil water repellence but polar molecules such as certain fatty acids, and waxes such as esters and salts of fatty acids, appear to be the main constituents of hydrophobic coatings on soil mineral particles. Plant species most commonly associated with water repellency are evergreen trees with a considerable amount of resins, waxes or aromatic oils such as eucalypts and pines. It is known that most of these substances are abundant in ecosystems and are released to soil by plants as root exudates or decaying organic debris, and by soil fauna, fungi and other microorganisms, but a thorough knowledge of substances capable of inducing hydrophobicity in soils is still not complete.

Although soil water repellency has been reported in most continents of the world for different soil types, climate conditions and land uses, there are still many research gaps in this area, particularly in semi-arid areas, which are largely affected by this phenomenon. This project addresses this knowledge gap by studying and evaluating water repellency in soils under different vegetation types of biodiverse semi-arid areas of Western Australia and Southern Europe, as well as characterizing organic compounds that induce hydrophobicity in these soils.

Key staff

Dr Miriam Muñoz-Rojas, Dr Jason Stevens, Prof Kingsley Dixon


Dr Antonio Jordan, Dr Lorena M. Zavala (MED_Soil Research Group, University of Seville, Spain); Dr Jose Antonio Gonzalez-Perez, Nicasio Jimenez-Morillo (Spanish National Research Council); Ana Alonso Lobo (Kings Park and Botanic Gardens Volunteer)

Soil samples collection and analysis of soil water infiltration in the Pilbara region, WA. Analysis of soil hydrophobicity in the laboratories of Kings Park and Botanic Gardens. Water drop penetration test on hydrophobic soils from Kings Park. Pyrolyzer attached to a GC/MS system at the laboratories of the Spanish National Research Council.

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