, Volume 162, Issue 1, pp 11–21 | Cite as

Hydraulic lift and tolerance to salinity of semiarid species: consequences for species interactions

  • Cristina Armas
  • Francisco M. Padilla
  • Francisco I. Pugnaire
  • Robert B. Jackson
Physiological Ecology - Original Paper


The different abilities of plant species to use ephemeral or permanent water sources strongly affect physiological performance and species coexistence in water-limited ecosystems. In addition to withstanding drought, plants in coastal habitats often have to withstand highly saline soils, an additional ecological stress. Here we tested whether observed competitive abilities and C–water relations of two interacting shrub species from an arid coastal system were more related to differences in root architecture or salinity tolerance. We explored water sources of interacting Juniperus phoenicea Guss. and Pistacia lentiscus L. plants by conducting physiology measurements, including water relations, CO2 exchange, photochemical efficiency, sap osmolality, and water and C isotopes. We also conducted parallel soil analyses that included electrical conductivity, humidity, and water isotopes. During drought, Pistacia shrubs relied primarily on permanent salty groundwater, while isolated Juniperus plants took up the scarce and relatively fresh water stored in upper soil layers. As drought progressed further, the physiological activity of Juniperus plants nearly stopped while Pistacia plants were only slightly affected. Juniperus plants growing with Pistacia had stem-water isotopes that matched Pistacia, unlike values for isolated Juniperus plants. This result suggests that Pistacia shrubs supplied water to nearby Juniperus plants through hydraulic lift. This lifted water, however, did not appear to benefit Juniperus plants, as their physiological performance with co-occurring Pistacia plants was poor, including lower water potentials and rates of photosynthesis than isolated plants. Juniperus was more salt sensitive than Pistacia, which withstood salinity levels similar to that of groundwater. Overall, the different abilities of the two species to use salty water appear to drive the outcome of their interaction, resulting in asymmetric competition where Juniperus is negatively affected by Pistacia. Salt also seems to mediate the interaction between the two species, negating the potential positive effects of an additional water source via hydraulic lift.


Juniperus phoenicea Pistacia lentiscus Root system Stable isotopes Water sources 



We thank the Junta de Andalucía Environmental Agency for permission to work in the Natural Reserve; Will Cook, Jonathan Karr and Antonio Delgado Huertas for help with isotope and ion analyses; Tracey Crocker and Maria José Jorquera for help with lab determinations and plant care, and Harriet Whitehead for comments on an earlier version. This work was partly funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science (grants CGL2004-00090 and CGL2007-63718). C. A. was supported by a Spanish MEC-Fulbright fellowship and by an I3P-CSIC contract. F. M. P. acknowledges the isotope training received thanks to an exchange grant of the ESF-SIBAE programme.

Supplementary material

442_2009_1447_MOESM1_ESM.doc (81 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 81 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Estación Experimental de Zonas ÁridasConsejo Superior de Investigaciones CientíficasAlmeríaSpain

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