, Volume 168, Issue 1, pp 11–22 | Cite as

The effect of hydraulic lift on organic matter decomposition, soil nitrogen cycling, and nitrogen acquisition by a grass species

  • Cristina Armas
  • John H. Kim
  • Timothy M. Bleby
  • Robert B. Jackson
Physiological ecology - Original Paper


Hydraulic lift (HL) is the passive movement of water through plant roots, driven by gradients in water potential. The greater soil–water availability resulting from HL may in principle lead to higher plant nutrient uptake, but the evidence for this hypothesis is not universally supported by current experiments. We grew a grass species common in North America in two-layer pots with three treatments: (1) the lower layer watered, the upper one unwatered (HL), (2) both layers watered (W), and (3) the lower layer watered, the upper one unwatered, but with continuous light 24 h a day to limit HL (no-HL). We inserted ingrowth cores filled with enriched-nitrogen organic matter (15N-OM) in the upper layer and tested whether decomposition, mineralization and uptake of 15N were higher in plants performing HL than in plants without HL. Soils in the upper layer were significantly wetter in the HL treatment than in the no-HL treatment. Decomposition rates were similar in the W and HL treatments and lower in no-HL. On average, the concentration of NH4 +-N in ingrowth cores was highest in the W treatment, and NO3 -N concentrations were highest in the no-HL treatment, with HL having intermediate values for both, suggesting differential mineralization of organic N among treatments. Aboveground biomass, leaf 15N contents and the 15N uptake in aboveground tissues were higher in W and HL than in no-HL, indicating higher nutrient uptake and improved N status of plants performing HL. However, there were no differences in total root nitrogen content or 15N uptake by roots, indicating that HL affected plant allocation of acquired N to photosynthetic tissues. Our evidence for the role of HL in organic matter decomposition and nutrient cycling suggests that HL could have positive effects on plant nutrient dynamics and nutrient turnover.


Bouteloua dactyloides Decomposition Hydraulic redistribution Mineralization plant–soil water relations 



We want to thank Todd Smith and the Duke Phytotron staff for help growing the plants and in designing the pots, Tom Rutherford from the Oil-Dri company for kindly providing us the soil. C.A. was supported by a Spanish MEC-Fulbright fellowship. J.H.K. was supported by a U.S. EPA STAR fellowship. T.M.B. was supported by the Australian Research Council. The U.S. National Science Foundation (DEB 0717191 and IOS 0920355) provided primary support for the experiment.

Supplementary material

442_2011_2065_MOESM1_ESM.doc (323 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 322 kb)


  1. Aanderud ZT, Richards JH (2009) Hydraulic redistribution may stimulate decomposition. Biogeochemistry 95:323–333CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Armas C, Padilla FM, Pugnaire FI, Jackson RB (2010) Hydraulic lift and tolerance to salinity of semiarid species: consequences for species interactions. Oecologia 162:11–21PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Austin AT et al (2004) Water pulses and biogeochemical cycles in arid and semiarid ecosystems. Oecologia 141:221–235PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bauerle TL, Richards JH, Smart DR, Eissenstat DM (2008) Importance of internal hydraulic redistribution for prolonging the lifespan of roots in dry soil. Plant Cell Environ 31:177–186PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Bleby TM, McElrone AJ, Jackson RB (2010) Water uptake and hydraulic redistribution across large woody root systems to 20 m depth. Plant Cell Environ 33:2132–2148Google Scholar
  6. Brown RW (1970) Measurement of water potential with thermocouple psychorometers: construction and application. US Forestry Service Research Paper INT-293Google Scholar
  7. Burgess SSO, Bleby TM (2006) Redistribution of soil water by lateral roots mediated by stem tissues. J Exp Bot 57:3283–3291PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Caldwell MM, Manwaring JH (1994) Hydraulic lift and soil nutrient heterogeneity. Isr J Plant Sci 42:321–330Google Scholar
  9. Caldwell MM, Richards JH (1989) Hydraulic lift: water efflux from upper roots improves effectiveness of water uptake by deep roots. Oecologia 79:1–5CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Caldwell MM, Dawson TE, Richards JH (1998) Hydraulic lift: consequences of water efflux from the roots of plants. Oecologia 113:151–161CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chapin FS (1991) Effects of multiple environmental stresses on nutrient availability and use. In: Mooney HA, Winner WE, Pell EJ, Chu E (eds) Response of plants to multiple stresses. Academic, San Diego, pp 67–88Google Scholar
  12. Crabtree WL, Robson AD, Ritchie GSP (1998) Drying of surface soil decreased Lupinus angustifolius root length and manganese uptake in a split-root experiment. Aust J Agric Res 49:1119–1123CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dawson TE (1993) Hydraulic lift and the water use by plants: implications for water balance, perfomance and plant–plant interactions. Oecologia 95:565–574Google Scholar
  14. Dawson TE (1997) Water loss from tree influences soil water nutrient status and plant performance. In: Flores EH, Lynch JP, Eissenstat D (eds) Radical biology: advances and perspectives on the function of plant roots, vol 18. American Society of Plant Physiologists, Rockville, pp 235–250Google Scholar
  15. 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
  16. Equiza MA, Day ME, Jagels R (2006) Physiological responses of three deciduous conifers (Metasequoia glyptostroboides, Taxodium distichum and Larix laricina) to continuous light: adaptive implications for the early tertiary polar summer. Tree Physiol 26:353–364PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gebauer RLE, Ehleringer JR (2000) Water and nitrogen uptake patterns following moisture pulses in a cold desert community. Ecology 81:1415–1424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Guo LB, Gifford RM (2002) Soil carbon stocks and land use change: a meta analysis. Glob Change Biol 8:345–360CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hawkins HJ, Hettasch H, West A, Cramer MD (2009) Hydraulic redistribution by Protea ‘Sylvia’ (Proteaceae) facilitates soil water replenishment and water acquisition by an understorey grass and shrub. Funct Plant Biol 36:752–760CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Huang B (1999) Water relations and root activities of Buchloe dactyloides and Zoysia japonica in response to localized soil drying. Plant Soil 208:179–186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Jackson RB, Manwaring JH, Caldwell MM (1990) Rapid physiological adjustment of roots to localized soil enrichment. Nature 344:58–60PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Jackson RB, Sperry JS, Dawson TE (2000) Root water uptake and transport: using physiological processes in global predictions. Trends Plant Sci 5:482–488PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Jackson RB, Banner JL, Jobbágy EG, Pockman WT, Wall DH (2002) Ecosystem carbon loss with woody plant invasion of grasslands. Nature 418:623–626PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Jobbágy EG, Jackson RB (2004) The uplift of soil nutrients by plants: biogeochemical consequences across scales. Ecology 85:2380–2389CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Knight DH (1973) Leaf area dynamics of a shortgrass prairie in Colorado. Ecology 54:891–896CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Knops JMH, Reinhart KO (2000) Specific leaf area along a nitrogen fertilization gradient. Am Midl Nat 144:265–272CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lee JE, Oliveira RS, Dawson TE, Fung I (2005) Root functioning modifies seasonal climate. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 102:17576–17581PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Leffler AJ, Ivans CY, Ryel RJ, Caldwell MM (2004) Gas exchange and growth responses of the desert shrubs Artemisia tridentata and Chrysothamnus nauseosus to shallow- vs. deep-soil water in a glasshouse experiment. Environ Exp Bot 51:9–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Liste H, White JC (2008) Plant hydraulic lift of soil water-implications for crop production and land restoration. Plant Soil 313:1–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Maag M, Vinther FP (1996) Nitrous oxide emission by nitrification and denitrification in different soil types and at different soil moisture contents and temperatures. Appl Soil Ecol 4:5–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Matzner SL, Richards JH (1996) Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata Nutt) roots maintain nutrient uptake capacity under water stress. J Exp Bot 47:1045–1056CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. McCulley RL, Jobbagy EG, Pockman WT, Jackson RB (2004) Nutrient uptake as a contributing explanation for deep rooting in arid and semi-arid ecosystems. Oecologia 141:620–628PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Miller AJ, Cramer MD (2005) Root nitrogen acquisition and assimilation. Plant Soil 274:1–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Nambiar EKS (1976) Uptake of Zn65 from dry soil by plants. Plant Soil 44:267–271CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Ohyama K, Omura Y, Kozai T (2005) Effects of air temperature regimes on physiological disorders and floral development of tomato seedlings grown under continuous light. Hortscience 40:1304–1306Google Scholar
  36. Prieto I, Padilla FM, Armas C, Pugnaire FI (2011) The role of hydraulic lift on seedling establishment under a nurse plant species in a semi-arid environment. Perspect Plant Ecol Evol Syst (in press)Google Scholar
  37. Querejeta JI, Egerton-Warburton LM, Allen MF (2003) Direct nocturnal water transfer from oaks to their mycorrhizal symbionts during severe soil drying. Oecologia 134:55–64PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Raven JA, Wollenweber B, Handley LL (1992) A comparison of ammonium and nitrate as nitrogen sources for photolithotrophs. New Phytol 121:19–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Redmann RE (1978) Plant and soil water potentials following fire in a northern mixed grassland. J Range Manag 31:443–445CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Rice CW (2006) Organic matter and nutrient dynamics. In: Lal R (ed) Encyclopedia of soil science, vol II. Taylor and Francis, New York, pp 1181–1183Google Scholar
  41. Richards JH, Caldwell MM (1987) Hydraulic lift: substantial nocturnal water transport between soil layers by Artemisia tridentata roots. Oecologia 73:486–489CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Rose TJ, Rengel Z, Ma Q, Bowden JW (2008) Hydraulic lift by canola plants aids P and K uptake from dry topsoil. Aust J Agric Res 59:38–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Scanlon BR, Reedy RC, Stonestrom DA, Prudic DE, Dennehy KF (2005) Impact of land use and land cover change on groundwater recharge and quality in the southwestern US. Glob Change Biol 11:1577–1593CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Schlesinger WH (1997) Biogeochemistry: an analysis of global change. Academic, San DiegoGoogle Scholar
  45. Scott RL, Cable WL, Hultine KR (2008) The ecohydrologic significance of hydraulic redistribution in a semiarid savanna. Water Resour Res 44:W02440CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Smart DR, Carlisle E, Goebel M, Nunez BA (2005) Transverse hydraulic redistribution by a grapevine. Plant Cell Environ 28:157–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Snyder KA, James JJ, Richards JH, Donovan LA (2008) Does hydraulic lift or nighttime transpiration facilitate nitrogen acquisition? Plant Soil 356:159–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Stark JM, Firestone MK (1995) Mechanisms for soil moisture effects on activity of nitrifying bacteria. Appl Environ Microbiol 61:218–221PubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Tilman D (1988) Plant strategies and the dynamics and structure of plant communities. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  50. Valenzuela-Estrada LR, Richards JH, Díaz A, Eissenstat DM (2009) Patterns of nocturnal rehydration in root tissues of Vaccinium corymbosum L. under severe drought conditions. J Exp Bot 60:1241–1247PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Velez-Ramírez AI, van Ieperen W, Vreugdenhil D, Millenaar FF (2011) Plants under continuous light. Trends Plant Sci 16:310–318PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Virginia RA, Jarrell WM (1983) Soil properties in a mesquite-dominated Sonoran Desert ecosystem. Soil Sci Soc Am J 47:138–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Wang X, Tang C, Guppy CN, Sale WG (2009) The role of hydraulic lift and subsoil P placement in P uptake of cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.). Plant Soil 325:263–275CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Warren JM, Brooks R, Meinzer FC, Eberhart JL (2008) Hydraulic redistribution of water from Pinus ponderosa trees to seedlings: evidence for an ectomycorrhizal pathway. New Phytol 178:382–394PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Weaver JE (1958) Summary and interpretation of underground development in natural grassland communities. Ecol Monogr 28:55–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Xiao YL, Zhang YT, Dang K, Wang DS (2007) Effects of continuous 24 h photoperiod on growth and photosynthesis in Platycodon grandiflorum (Jacq.) A. DC. plants. Propag Ornam Plants 7:216–218Google Scholar
  57. Yahdjian L, Sala OE, Austin AT (2006) Differential controls of water input on litter decomposition and nitrogen dynamics in the Patagonian steppe. Ecosystems 9:128–141CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cristina Armas
    • 1
    • 2
  • John H. Kim
    • 1
  • Timothy M. Bleby
    • 3
  • Robert B. Jackson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Estación Experimental de Zonas ÁridasConsejo Superior de Investigaciones CientíficasAlmeríaSpain
  3. 3.School of Plant BiologyThe University of Western Australia (M084)CrawleyAustralia

Personalised recommendations