Plant genetic diversity, irrigation and nutrient cycling in traditional mountain oases of northern Oman


Little is known about plant biodiversity, irrigation management and nutrient fluxes as criteria to assess the sustainability of traditional irrigation agriculture in eastern Arabia. Therefore interdisciplinary studies were conducted over 4 yrs on flood-irrigated fields dominated by wheat (Triticum spp.), alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) and date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.) in two mountain oases of northern Oman. In both oases wheat landraces consisted of varietal mixtures comprising T. aestivum and T. durum of which at least two botanical varieties were new to science. During irrigation cycles of 6-9 days on an alfalfa-planted soil, volumetric water contents ranged from 30-13%. For cropland, partial oasis balances (comprising inputs of manure, mineral fertilizers, N2-fixation and irrigation water, and outputs of harvested products) were similar for both oases, with per hectare annual surpluses of 131 kg N, 37 kg P and 84 kg K at Balad Seet and of 136 kg N, 16 kg P and 66 kg K at Maqta. Respective palm grove surpluses, in contrast were with 303 kg N, 38 kg P, and 173 kg K ha-1 yr-1 much higher at Balad Seet than with 84 kg N, 14 kg P and 91 kg K ha-1 yr-1 at Maqta. The results show that the sustainability of these irrigated landuse systems depends on a high quality of the irrigation water with low Na but high CaCO3, intensive recycling of manure and an elaborate terrace structure with a well tailored water management system that allows adequate drainage.