, Volume 107, Issue 1, pp 13-20

Seasonal water uptake and movement in root systems of Australian phraeatophytic plants of dimorphic root morphology: a stable isotope investigation

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Abstract

A natural abundance hydrogen stable isotope technique was used to study seasonal changes in source water utilization and water movement in the xylem of dimorphic root systems and stem bases of several woody shrubs or trees in mediterranean-type ecosystems of south Western Australia. Samples collected from the native treeBanksia prionotes over 18 months indicated that shallow lateral roots and deeply penetrating tap (sinker) roots obtained water of different origins over the course of a winter-wet/summer-dry annual cycle. During the wet season lateral roots acquired water mostly by uptake of recent precipitation (rain water) contained within the upper soil layers, and tap roots derived water from the underlying water table. The shoot obtained a mixture of these two water sources. As the dry season approached dependence on recent rain water decreased while that on ground water increased. In high summer, shallow lateral roots remained well-hydrated and shoots well supplied with ground water taken up by the tap root. This enabled plants to continue transpiration and carbon assimilation and thus complete their seasonal extension growth during the long (4–6 month) dry season. Parallel studies of other native species and two plantation-grown species ofEucalyptus all demonstrated behavior similar to that ofB. prionotes. ForB. prionotes, there was a strong negative correlation between the percentage of water in the stem base of a plant which was derived from the tap root (ground water) and the amount of precipitation which fell at the site. These data suggested that during the dry season plants derive the majority of the water they use from deeper sources while in the wet season most of the water they use is derived from shallower sources supplied by lateral roots in the upper soil layers. The data collected in this study supported the notion that the dimorphic rooting habit can be advantageous for large woody species of floristically-rich, open, woodlands and heathlands where the acquisition of seasonally limited water is at a premium.