, Volume 138, Issue 3, pp 341–349 | Cite as

Species-specific patterns of hydraulic lift in co-occurring adult trees and grasses in a sandhill community

  • J. F. Espeleta
  • J. B. West
  • L. A. Donovan


Plants can significantly affect ecosystem water balance by hydraulic redistribution (HR) from dry to wet soil layers via roots (also called hydraulic lift, HL, when the redistribution is from deep to shallow soil). However, the information on how co-occurring species in natural habitats differ in HL ability is insufficient. In a field study, we compared HL ability of four tree species (including three congeneric oak species) and two C4 bunch grass species that co-occur in subxeric habitats of fall-line sandhills in southeastern USA. Soil water potentials (ψs) were recorded hourly for 3 years both in large chambers that isolated roots for each species and outside the chambers. Outside of root chambers, soil drying occurred periodically in the top 25 cm and corresponded with lack of precipitation during the summer growing season. Soil moisture was continuously available at a 1 m depth. HL activity was observed in three of the tree species, with greater frequency for Pinus palustris than for Quercus laevis and Q. incana. The fourth tree species Q. margaretta did not exhibit HL activity even though it experienced a similar ψs gradient. For the C4 bunch grasses, Aristida stricta exhibited a small amount of HL activity, but Schizachyrium scoparium did not. The capacity for HL activity may be linked to the species ecological distribution. The four species that exhibited HL activity in this subxeric habitat are also dominant in adjacent xeric sandhill habitats, whereas the species that did not exhibit HL are scarcely found in the xeric areas. This is consistent with other studies that found greater fine root survival in dry soil for the four xeric species exhibiting HL activity. The differential ability of these species to redistribute water from the deep soil to the rapidly drying shallow soil likely has a strong effect on the water balance of sandhill plant communities, and is likely linked to their differential distribution across edaphic gradients.


Aristida stricta Hydraulic lift Hydraulic redistribution  Pinus palustris  Quercus laevis 



We would like to thank the CSNWR staff for providing housing, meteorological data and help in many aspects of this research. Rob Addington, Jill Johnston and Christina Richards provided crucial help with psychrometer installation, and Jill Johnston, Christina Richards, David Rosenthal, Keirith Snyder and Fulco Ludwig offered valuable comments on the data. This research was funded by grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to L.A.D.


  1. Aerts R (1999) Interspecific competition in natural plant communities: mechanisms, trade-offs and plant-soil feedbacks. J Exp Bot 50:29–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baker JM, van Bavel CHM (1988) Water transfer through cotton plants connecting soil regions of differing water potential. Agron J 80:993–997Google Scholar
  3. Brooks JR, Meinzer FC, Coulombe R, Gregg J (2002) Hydraulic redistribution of soil water during summer drought in two contrasting Pacific Northwest coniferous forests. Tree Physiol 22:1107–1117PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Brown RW, Bartos DL (1982) A calibration model for screen caged Peltier thermocouple psychrometers (Research Paper INT-293). USDA Forest Service, Ogden, UtahGoogle Scholar
  5. Burgess SSO, Adams MA, Turner NC, Ong CK (1998). The redistribution of soil water by tree root systems. Oecologia 115:306–311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Caldwell MM, Richards JH (1989) Hydraulic lift: water efflux from upper roots improves effectiveness of water uptake by deep roots. Oecologia 79:1–5Google Scholar
  7. Caldwell MM, Richards JH, Beyschlag W (1991) Hydraulic lift: ecological implications of water efflux from roots. In: Atkinson DA (ed) Plant root growth, an ecological perspective. Special Publication Series of the British Ecological Society, Number 10. Blackwell Scientific, Oxford, UK, pp 423–436Google Scholar
  8. Caldwell MM, Dawson TE, Richards JH (1998) Hydraulic lift: consequences of water efflux for the roots of plants. Oecologia 113:151–161CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Christensen NL (2000) Vegetation of the southeastern coastal plain. In: Barbour MG, Billings WD (eds) North American terrestrial vegetation. Cambridge University Press, New York, USA, pp 397–448Google Scholar
  10. Dawson TE (1993) Hydraulic lift and water use by plants: implications for water balance, performance and plant-plant interactions. Oecologia 95:565–574Google Scholar
  11. Dawson TE (1996) Determining water use by trees and forests from isotopic, energy balance and transpiration analyses: the roles of tree size and hydraulic lift. Tree Physiol 16:263–272Google Scholar
  12. Dawson TE (1998) Water loss from tree roots influences soil water and nutrient status and plant performances. In: Flores HE, Lynch JP, Eissenstat DM (eds) Radical biology: advances and perspectives in the function of plant roots (Current topics in plant physiology 18). American Society of Plant Physiologists, Rockville, Maryland, pp 235–250Google Scholar
  13. Deans JD (1979) Fluctuations of the soil environment and fine root growth in a young Sitka spruce plantation. Plant Soil 52:195–208Google Scholar
  14. De Kroon H, van der Zalm E, van Rheenen JWA, van Dijk A, Kreulen R (1998) The interaction between water and nitrogen translocation in a rhizomatous sedge (Carex flacca). Oecologia 116:38–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Donovan LA, West JB, McLeod KW (2000) Quercus species differ in water and nutrient characteristics in a resource-limited fall-line sandhill habitat. Tree Physiol 20:929–936PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Donovan LA, Richards JH, Linton MJ (2003). Magnitude and mechanisms of disequilibrium between predawn plant and soil water potentials. Ecology (in press)Google Scholar
  17. Eissenstat DM, Yanai R (1997) The ecology of root life span. Adv Ecol Res 27:1–60Google Scholar
  18. Emerman SH, Dawson TE (1996) Hydraulic lift and its influence on the water content of the rhizosphere: an example from sugar maple, Acer saccharum. Oecologia 108:273–278Google Scholar
  19. Espeleta JF (2002) Species-specific patterns of fine root demography and hydraulic lift among trees of the fall-line sandhills. PhD dissertation, University of Georgia, USAGoogle Scholar
  20. Espeleta JF, Donovan LA (2002) Fine root demography and morphology in response to soil resources availability among xeric and mesic sandhill tree species. Funct Ecol 16:113–121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Goebel PC, Palik BJ, Kirkman K, Drew MB, West L, Paterson DC (2001) Forest ecosystems of a Lower Gulf Coastal Plain landscape: a multifactor classification and analysis. J Torrey Bot Soc 128:47–75Google Scholar
  22. Grime JP (1977) Evidence for the existence of three primary strategies in plants and its relevance to ecological and evolutionary theory. Am Nat 111:1169–1194CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Horton JL, Hart SC (1998) Hydraulic lift: a potentially important ecosystem process. Trends Ecol Evol 13:232–235CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Jackson RB, Sperry JS, Dawson TE (2000a) Root water uptake and transport: using physiological processes in global predictions. Trends Plant Sci 5:482–488PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Jackson RB, Schenk HJ, Jobbagy EG, Canadell J, Colello GD, Dickinson RE, Field CB, Friedlingstein P, Heimann M, Hibbard K, Kicklighter DW, Kleidon A, Neilson RP, Parton WJ, Sala OE, Sykes MT (2000b) Belowground consequences of vegetation change and their treatment in models. Ecol Appl 10:470–483Google Scholar
  26. Jacqmain EI, Jones RH, Mitchell RJ (1999) Influences of frequent cool-season burning across a soil moisture gradient on oak community structure in longleaf pine ecosystems. Am Midl Nat 141:85–100Google Scholar
  27. Le Roux X, Bariac T, Mariotti A (1995) Spatial partitioning of the soil water resource between grass and shrub components in a West African humid savanna. Oecologia 104:147–155Google Scholar
  28. Ludwig F (2001) Tree-grass interactions on an East African savanna: the effects of competition, facilitation and hydraulic lift. PhD dissertation, Wageningen University, WageningenGoogle Scholar
  29. Ludwig F, Dawson TE, de Kroon H, Berendse F, Prins HHT (2003) Hydraulic lift in Acacia tortilis trees on an East African savanna. Oecologia 134:293–300PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Matzner SL, Richards JH (1996) Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata Nutt.) roots maintain nutrient uptake capacity under water stress. J Exp Bot 47:1045–1056Google Scholar
  31. Mavity EM (1986) Physiological ecology of four species of Quercus on the sandhills of Georgia. MS Thesis, University of Georgia, USAGoogle Scholar
  32. Meinzer FC, Clearwater MJ, Goldstein G (2001) Water transport in trees: current perspectives, new insights and some controversies. Environ Exp Bot 45:239–232CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Millikin Ishikawa C, Bledsoe CS (2000) Seasonal and diurnal patterns of soil water potential in the rhizosphere of blue oaks: evidence for hydraulic lift. Oecologia 125:459–465CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Nobel PS (1994) Root-soil responses to water pulses in dry environments. In: Caldwell MM, Pearcy RW (eds) Exploitation of environmental heterogeneity by plants. Academic Press, San Diego, California, USA, pp 285–304Google Scholar
  35. Oliver CD (1978) Subsurface geologic formations and site variation in upper sand hills of South Carolina. J For 76:352–354Google Scholar
  36. Peet PK, Allard DJ (1993) Longleaf pine vegetation of the southern Atlantic and eastern Gulf Coast regions: a preliminary classification. Proceedings of the Tall Timbers Fire Ecology Conference 18:45–82Google Scholar
  37. Richards JH, Caldwell MM. (1987) Hydraulic lift: substantial nocturnal water transport between soil layers by Artemesia tridentata roots. Oecologia 73:486–489Google Scholar
  38. Ryel RJ, Caldwell MM, Yoder CK, Or D, Leffler AJ (2002) Hydraulic redistribution in a stand of Artemisia tridentata: evaluation of benefits to transpiration assessed with a simulation model. Oecologia 130:173–184Google Scholar
  39. Sakuratani T, Ahoe T, Higuchi H (1999) Reverse flow in roots of Sesbania rostrata measured using the constant power heat balance method. Plant Cell Environ 22:1153–1160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Sala OE, Golluscio RA, Lauenroth WK, Soriano A (1989) Resource partitioning between shrubs and grasses in the Patagonian steppe. Oecologia 81:501–505Google Scholar
  41. Scholes RJ, Archer SR (1997) Tree-grass interactions in savannas. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 28:517–544CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Scholz FG, Bucci SJ, Goldstein G, Meinzer FC, Franco AC (2002) Hydraulic redistribution of soil water by neotropical savanna trees. Tree Physiol 22:603–612PubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Schulze ED, Caldwell MM, Canadell J, Mooney HA, Jackson RB, Parson D, Scholes R, Sala OE, Trimborn P (1998) Downward flux of water through roots (i.e. inverse hydraulic lift) in dry Kalahari sands. Oecologia 115:460–462CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Smith DM, Jackson NA, Roberts JM, Ong CK (1999) Reverse flow of sap in tree roots and downward siphoning of water by Grevillea robusta. Funct Ecol 13:256–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Song Y, Kirkham MB, Ham JM, Kluitenberg GJ (2000) Root-zone hydraulic lift evaluated with the dual-probe heat-pulse technique. Aust J Soil Res 38:927–935Google Scholar
  46. USDA (1995) Soil Survey of Chesterfield County, South Carolina. Soil Conservation Service, United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  47. Vaitkus MR, McLeod KW (1995) Photosynthesis and water-use efficiency of two sandhill oaks following additions of water and nutrients. Bull Torrey Bot Club 122:30–39Google Scholar
  48. Wan C, Sosebeen RE, McMichael BL (1993) Does hydraulic lift exist in shallow-rooted species? A quantitative examination with a half-shrub Gutierrezia sarothhrae. Plant Soil 153:11–17Google Scholar
  49. Wan CG, Xu WW, Sosebee RE, Machado S, Archer T (2000) Hydraulic lift in drought-tolerant and -susceptible maize hybrids. Plant Soil 219:117–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Weaver TW (1969) Gradients in the Carolina fall-line sandhills: environment, vegetation, and comparative ecology of oaks. PhD dissertation, Duke University, USAGoogle Scholar
  51. Wells BW, Shunk IV (1931) The vegetation and habitat factors of the coarser sands of the North Carolina Coastal Plain: an ecological study. Ecol Monogr 1:465–520Google Scholar
  52. West JB (2002) The effects of dominant bunchgrass species on sandhill longleaf pine savanna ecosystem function: a comparison of wiregrass to the bluestems. PhD dissertation, University of Georgia, USAGoogle Scholar
  53. West JB, Espeleta JF, Donovan LA (2003a) Root longevity and phenology differences between two co-occurring savanna bunchgrasses with different leaf habits. Funct Ecol 17:20–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. West JB, Espeleta JF, Donovan LA (2003b) Fine root production and turnover across a complex edaphic gradient of a Pinus palustris - Aristida stricta savanna ecosystem. For Ecol Manage (in press)Google Scholar
  55. Williams K, Caldwell MM, Richards J.H (1993) The influence of shade and clouds on sol water potential: the buffered behavior of hydraulic lift. Plant Soil 157:83–95Google Scholar
  56. Yoder CK, Nowak RS (1999) Hydraulic lift among native plant species in the Mojave Desert. Plant Soil 215:93–102Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. F. Espeleta
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
  • J. B. West
    • 1
    • 3
  • L. A. Donovan
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Plant BiologyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  2. 2.La Selva Biological StationOrganization for Tropical StudiesPuerto Viejo de SarapiquíCosta Rica
  3. 3.Department of Ecology, Evolution and BehaviorUniversity of MinnesotaSt. PaulUSA
  4. 4.Organization for Tropical Studies Interlink 341MiamiUSA

Personalised recommendations