Photosynthetic pigment concentrations, gas exchange and vegetative growth for selected monocots and dicots treated with two contrasting coal fly ashes

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There is uncertainty as to the rates of coal fly ash needed for optimum physiological processes and growth. In the current study we tested the hypothesis that photosynthetic pigments concentrations and CO2 assimilation (A) are more sensitive than dry weights in plants grown on media amended with coal fly ash. We applied the Terrestrial Plant Growth Test (Guideline 208) protocols of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to monocots [barley (Hordeum vulgare) and ryegrass (Secale cereale)] and dicots [canola (Brasica napus), radish (Raphanus sativus), field peas (Pisum sativum), and lucerne (Medicago sativa)] on media amended with fly ashes derived from semi-bituminous (gray ash) or lignite (red ash) coals at rates of 0, 2.5, 5.0, 10, or 20 Mg ha–1. The red ash had higher elemental concentrations and salinity than the gray ash. Fly ash addition had no significant effect on germination by any of the six species. At moderate rates (≤ 10 Mg ha–1) both ashes increased (p < 0.05) growth rates and concentrations of chlorophylls a and b, but reduced carotenoid concentrations. Addition of either ash increased A in radish and transpiration in barley. Growth rates and final dry weights were reduced for all of the six test species when addition rates exceeded 10 Mg ha–1 for gray ash and 5 Mg ha–1 for red ash. We concluded that plant dry weights, rather than pigment concentrations and/or instantaneous rates of photosynthesis, are more consistent for assessing subsequent growth in plants supplied with fly ash.

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