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Water Sources Accessed By Arid Zone Riparian Trees In Highly Saline Environments, Australia

J. Costelloe, Emily G I Payne, I. E. Woodrow, E. Irvine, A. Western, F. Leaney
Published 2008 · Biology, Medicine

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The flow regimes of arid zone rivers are often highly variable, and shallow groundwater in the alluvial aquifers can be very saline, thus constraining the availability and quality of the major water sources available to riparian trees—soil water, shallow groundwater and stream water. We have identified water sources and strategies used by riparian trees in more highly saline and arid conditions than previously studied for riparian trees of arid zone rivers. Our research focused on the riparian species Eucalyptus coolabah, one of the major riparian trees of ephemeral arid zone rivers in Australia. The water sources available to this riparian tree were examined using δ18O isotope data from xylem, soil water, groundwater and surface water. Additionally, soil chloride and matric potential data were used to infer zones of water availability for root uptake. Despite the saline conditions, the trees used a mixture of soil water and groundwater sources, but they did not use surface water directly. The study identified three strategies used to cope with typically high groundwater and soil water salinities. Firstly, the trees preferentially grow in zones of most frequent flushing by infiltrating streamflow, such as the bank-tops of channels. Secondly, the trees limit water use by having low transpiration rates. Thirdly, the trees are able to extract water at very low osmotic potentials, with water uptake continuing at chloride concentrations of at least 20,000–30,000 mg L−1.
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