ARS Studies Effect of Wind Sandblasting on Cotton
By Don Comis
January 26, 2010
Someday breeders will be able to
choose cotton plants that can better withstand wind sandblasting, according to
an Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
ARS plant physiologist
Baker has been testing the effects of wind sandblasting on cotton seedling
growth. His goal is to develop plants that can heal faster and maintain yields
after suffering sandblasting damage.
Baker, based at the ARS
Erosion and Water Conservation Research Unit at Big Spring, Texas, is
studying the effects of wind sandblasting not only on stems and leaves, but on
Big Spring is in the heart of Dust Bowl country, where localized dust storms
still sandblast crop seedlings, just as widespread dust storms did during the
1930s and 1950s. The strong wind season begins in November and ends in May each
year. The erosive winds, often reaching speeds of 25 to 40 miles per hour, pick
up loose particles of soil. The effect on seedlings is similar to the effects
of using a mechanical sandblaster on a plant.
Using a wind tunnel, Baker and colleagues blasted seedlings with sand-laden
30-mile-per-hour wind. They studied the effects immediately and after two and
four weeks. They found that over the first two weeks, the seedlings shifted
their growth from root and leaf growth to repair and growth of injured stems.
By the fourth week, plant growth had returned to normal, once again balancing
growth throughout the plant, down to the roots.
Wind sandblasting has effects similar to those of pruningthe loss of
leaves and reduced photosynthesis. But unlike pruning, windblown sand abrasion
damage ruptures plant cells, exposing the plant to temporary drought effects
induced by resulting increased plant respiration rates and possible damage to
the tiny openings on the outer layer of young plant stems and leaves, called
More tests are needed of the effects of sand abrasion damage on cotton
plants' net photosynthesis and respiration to understand the underlying
physiological mechanisms of plant injury and recovery.
This research was published in the Agronomy Journal.
ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency in the
U.S. Department of