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Abstract

Glasshouse trials, using trickle irrigation and increasing levels of NaOH-induced alkalinity, identified species that could be expected to tolerate the high-pH conditions of bauxite processing waste residue sites. Of 29 taxa tested, the most tolerant were Casuarina obesa, Melaleuca lanceolata, M. armillaris, M. nesophila, Eucalyptus loxophleba, E. halophila, E. platypus, Tamarix aphylla, and a particular clone of E. camaldulensis; E. spathulata, E. tetragona, E. preissiana, E. gomphocephala, E. diptera, and E. occidentalis proved to be relatively sensitive to severe alkaline conditions. Tolerance appeared to relate to an ability to maintain root membrane function, nutrient uptake balance, and ultimately root tissue structure while under increasing levels of alkalinity stress. Species normally inhabiting alkaline soils tended to have increased growth rates in nutrient irrigation conditions between pH 8 and 10 compared with control plants irrigated with nutrient solutions of pH values near 7.4. However, once the irrigation solutions reached pH 12 and the buffering capacity of the soil appeared to be exceeded, the condition of susceptible plants rapidly declined and death followed. Sensitive plants initially showed symptoms related to nutrient deficiency, followed by wilting and death as the root systems failed. Field trial conditions in the bauxite residue impoundments at Kwinana, Western Australia, include soils with pH values as high as 11.00. In general, the relative survival and growth of seedlings after eight months were predicted by the response under glasshouse trial conditions. Appropriately designed stress trials can be important ecological techniques in choosing species most capable of surviving difficult environmental conditions in the rehabilitation of damaged landscapes.