Soil Research Soil Research Society
Soil, land care and environmental research

Least limiting water range: a potential indicator of physical quality of forest soils

C. Zou, R. Sands, G. Buchan and I. Hudson

Australian Journal of Soil Research 38(5) 947 - 958
Published: 2000


The interactions of the 4 basic soil physical properties—volumetric water content, matric potential, soil strength, and air-filled porosity—were investigated over a range of contrasting textures and for 3 compaction levels of 4 forest soils in New Zealand, using linear and non-linear regression methods. Relationships among these properties depended on texture and bulk density. Soil compaction increased volumetric water contents at field capacity, at wilting point, and at the water contents associated with restraining soil strength values, but decreased the water content when air-filled porosity was limiting. The integrated effect of matric potential, air-filled porosity, and soil strength on plant growth was described by the single parameter, least limiting water range (LLWR). LLWR defines a range in soil water content within which plant growth is least likely to be limited by the availability of water and air in soil and the soil strength. Soil compaction narrowed or decreased LLWR in most cases. In coarse sandy soil, initial compaction increased LLWR, but further compaction decreased LLWR. LLWR is sensitive to variations in forest management practices and is a potential indicator of soil physical condition for sustainable forest management.

Keywords: soil volumetric water content, soil matric potential, soil strength, soil air-filled porosity, soil moisture characteristic curve, soil strength characteristic curve.

© CSIRO 2000

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