Halophytes and saline adaptations: A Special Issue of Annals of Botany

Tim J Flowers and Tim D Colmer

Saline ecosystems are a familiar feature in many continents. The seas and oceans of the world, which contain on average about 3.5% (w/v) salt, cover some 72% of the surface of the globe and so it is inevitable that salt affects some of the land. These natural salt-affected areas are characterized by a unique flora of halophytes, with an unusual ability to cope with salinity, far above that of most plants. These abilities of halophytes to cope with highly saline soils offer important models for understanding salt tolerance in plants, providing insights beyond studies of stress responses of non-halophytes more commonly reported in the scientific literature. Halophytic ecosystems have been studied (and modelled) as have their soils, their microbiology and their productivity. Recent research is highlighting physiological and molecular aspects of the adaptations of halophytes to salinity.

Tecticornia pergranulata
Tecticornia pergranulata. Photo: Tim Flowers.

There has been a steady increase of research publications on the effects of salinity on plants since the 1960s, with a three-fold increase in the number of papers a year (with salin* and plant* in the topic) between the years 2001-2002 and 2011-2012. This reflects a growing realisation of the impact of salinity for world agriculture. Irrigated agriculture, perhaps the most productive of agricultural systems, is affected by salinisation with some 20% of the irrigated area being sufficiently salt-affected to reduce or prevent cropping. Large areas of dryland/rainfed agriculture are also impacted, or threatened by, spreading salinisation as a consequence of changed hydrological regimes resulting from clearance of the perennial native vegetation. Rising sea-levels threaten low-lying coastal regions across the world, many of the most vulnerable of which lie in economically less developed countries.

In 2009 a COST Action ‘Putting halophytes to work – from genes to ecosystems’ brought together the expertise of plant scientists, soil scientists and microbiologists to generate a new understanding of the ecosystems in which halophytes grow and flourish; an understanding that was designed to inform the management of coastal environments, suggest the creation of a new saline agriculture using halophytic species and aid the generation of salt tolerant crops. Participants in this Action are now, with the support of the Annals of Botany, organising a conference on halophytes in Coimbra, Portugal, in April 2014 and a Special Issue of the Annals of Botany, to be published in early 2015. Authors already committed to contribute to the Special Issue are Dorothea Bartels, Hans Bohnert, Lindell Bromham, Tim Colmer, Nina Federoff, Tim Flowers, Rana Munns, Moshe Sagi, Sergey Shabala and Ismail Turkan, with topics ranging from the evolution of halophytes through their ecophysiology, cell physiology and biochemistry, molecular biology to their domestication for use in agriculture. This is an open call for submission of papers on halophytes for consideration for inclusion in the Special Issue, following the usual peer-review process.

We are keen to include further papers describing original research or reviews on halophytes. If you have such a manuscript that you would like us to consider, please send an outline (Title, Authors and 250 to 500 words) before November 2013 to If agreed, the full paper would need to be submitted by 01 April 2014, in order to enter the full review process. The deadline has now passed.

The Special Issue of Annals of Botany on Halophytes will be guest-edited by T.J. Flowers & T.D. Colmer.