Influence of groundwater depth on the seasonal sources of water accessed by Banksia tree species on a shallow, sandy coastal aquifer
In Mediterranean ecosystems vegetation overlying shallow, transient aquifers is often dominated by woody phreatophytes, trees and shrubs that have been shown to be dependent on groundwater for their water requirements. Natural and anthropogenic alterations of groundwater tables (abstraction) are of clear importance to phreatophytic vegetation as reduction of water tables may sever these plants from their natural water sources. Seasonal water sources were determined for species growing on a coastal dune system that overlies a shallow sandy aquifer in south-western Australia. The plants studied grew over groundwater that ranged in depth from 2.5 to 30 m. The naturally occurring stable isotope of hydrogen (deuterium, δ2H) was used to distinguish potential water sources. Isotopic ratios from vascular water of the dominant species of the study area (Banksia ilicifolia R. Br. and Banksia attenuata R. Br. trees) were compared with those of potential sources of precipitation, soil moisture and groundwater. A relatively shallow-rooted perennial shrub, Hibbertia hypericoides Benth., was also included as an isotopic reference. The results suggest that both B. attenuata and B. ilicifolia are phreatophytic as they derived some of their water from groundwater throughout the dry-wet cycle, with the exception of B. attenuata at the site of greatest depth to groundwater (30 m) which did not use groundwater. A high proportion (>50%) of groundwater use was not maintained throughout all seasons. With the onset of the hot Mediterranean summer, progressive drying of the surface soils resulted in increased use of groundwater and deep soil moisture. During the wet winter plants used proportionately more water from the upper layers of the soil profile. The degree to which groundwater was utilised by the study species was dependent on the proximity of groundwater, availability of moisture in shallower horizons of the soil profile, root system distribution and maximum root depth.
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