Simulation of water-limited growth of the forage shrub saltbush (Atriplex nummularia Lindl.) in a low-rainfall environment of southern Australia
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Old man saltbush (Atriplex nummularia Lindl.) is a useful forage shrub for livestock in the low-rainfall areas of the world, and particularly in Australia. In these semi-arid and arid environments, saltbush is valuable for increasing the production from otherwise marginal areas of the farm and during drought periods when there are few feed alternatives. The ability to predict the growth and development of perennial forages such as old man saltbush in response to rainfall, soils and farm management is necessary for farming system planning and design purposes. A field experiment was conducted at Waikerie, South Australia, to inform the development of a new forage shrub model for use in the APSIM framework. The model takes into account the common setup of saltbush plantations in alley systems, by simulating light interception and water uptake for interacting shrub and inter-row zones separately. This is done by modelling the canopy and root system development. Field data across three soil types along a landscape catena showed that the model was able to satisfactorily predict daily biomass accumulation, partitioning into leaf and woody biomass, and regrowth after grazing. The model was sensitive to properties associated with the root system, and with limited parameterisation can be tailored to simulate different clonal cultivars. The model can now be used in the APSIM framework to assess temporal and spatial dynamics of forage systems combining shrubs with herbaceous pasture components.