The role of halophytes in salt-affected areas

 Photo credit: Google

Halophytes on the Dhabaiya Gypsum Dunes (UAE)

How can we take advantage of halophyte properties to cope with heavy metal toxicity in salt-affected areas?

A halophyte is a plant that grows in waters of high salinity, coming into contact with saline water through its roots or by salt spray, such as in saline semi-deserts, mangrove swamps, marshes and sloughs, and seashores. (Wikipedia)

by Stanley LuttsIsabelle Lefèvre


Background Many areas throughout the world are simultaneously contaminated by high concentrations of soluble salts and by high concentrations of heavy metals that constitute a serious threat to human health. The use of plants to extract or stabilize pollutants is an interesting alternative to classical expensive decontamination procedures. However, suitable plant species still need to be identified for reclamation of substrates presenting a high electrical conductivity.

Scope Halophytic plant species are able to cope with several abiotic constraints occurring simultaneously in their natural environment. This review considers their putative interest for remediation of polluted soil in relation to their ability to sequester absorbed toxic ions in trichomes or vacuoles, to perform efficient osmotic adjustment and to limit the deleterious impact of oxidative stress. These physiological adaptations are considered in relation to the impact of salt on heavy metal bioavailabilty in two types of ecosystem: (1) salt marshes and mangroves, and (2) mine tailings in semi-arid areas.

Conclusions Numerous halophytes exhibit a high level of heavy metal accumulation and external NaCl may directly influence heavy metal speciation and absorption rate. Maintenance of biomass production and plant water status makes some halophytes promising candidates for further management of heavy-metal-polluted areas in both saline and non-saline environments.

See also: Oxford Journals

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.