Tree proximity, soil pathways and common mycorrhizal networks: their influence on the utilization of redistributed water by understory seedlings
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Hydraulic redistribution (HR) is a process by which water moves through plant roots from moist to dry soils. An experiment was conducted to quantify the influence of common mycorrhizal networks (CMNs) and proximity to mature HR-source trees on the water relations of surrounding seedlings. Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var glauca (Mirb.) Franco) seedlings were planted at four distances (0.5, 1, 2.5, and 5 m) from six mature Douglas-fir trees, either directly into soil (soil plus CMN pathway) or inside 0.5 μm mesh bags (soil-only pathway). Deuterated water was used to irrigate soil beside mature trees in order to identify different HR water pathways to surrounding seedlings. This was followed by measurements of seedling deuterium enrichment, seedling water potential, soil water potential, gravimetric soil water content, and tree root density surrounding the seedlings. There was no significantly detectable difference in the quantity of HR water transferred to seedlings having access to soil and CMN pathways or soil-only pathways of water movement. Water from the irrigation plot contributed up to 1.4% of the water of Douglas-fir seedlings. Based on the assumption that the only pathway through which seedlings could access irrigation water was through the mature trees, we estimate that as much as 21.6% of the seedling water was supplied by the nearby tree. Seedling water potential was not significantly affected either by proximity to mature trees or pathway, suggesting HR may have compensated for increasing tree competitive effects with proximity. It is also possible that the lack of difference was due to a relatively moist summer. Our results suggest that residual mature trees are potentially important for hydraulic redistribution to regenerating seedlings in harvested dry interior Douglas-fir forests.