New Forests

, Volume 49, Issue 6, pp 871–892 | Cite as

Assessing water use and soil water balance of planted native tree species under strong water limitations in Northern Chile

  • Horacio E. BownEmail author
  • Juan Pablo Fuentes
  • Amanda M. Martínez


Some forest plantations with native species are established in semiarid central Chile to compensate for industrial activities such as those of mining. Two of those operational forest plantations were monitored from age 1 to 3 years-old (2014–2016). Some plant attributes and soil volumetric water content (VWC) were monitored for eight native tree species (Acacia caven, Schinus polygamus, Porlieria chilensis, Lithraea caustica, Quillaja saponaria, Cryptocarya alba, Drimys winteri and Maytenus boaria), and a water balance model fitted to assess plant water use. Site preparation comprised planting holes of 40 cm × 40 cm by 50 cm in depth dug with a backhoe. Substrate was removed and mixed with compost in proportion 70:30 before mixing it in the planting hole. Planting holes acted as water reservoirs over the study period with soil VWC generally increasing with soil depth being also less variable deeper than in the upper soil layers. The ratio of adaxial (upper leaf side) to abaxial (lower leaf side) stomatal conductance approximately followed a species gradient from xeric to mesic. Irrigation represented about 26% and 53% of the total water input for the sclerophyll and the D. winteri plantation, respectively. At the plant level (0.4 × 0.4 m), soil evaporation and transpiration of D. winteri (273 and 232 mm year−1, equivalent to 43.7 and 37.1 L plant−1, respectively) were about twofold the values for the sclerophyllous/malacophyllous plantation (138 and 128 mm year−1, 22.1 and 20.5 L plant−1, respectively). We suggest the water budget for the sclerophyll/malacophyllous plantation was tight but feasible to be adjusted while for D. winteri irrigation was excessive, could be drastically reduced, and suppressed altogether if planted in gullies. We believe water balance models and soil moisture content sensors could be used to better plan and manage irrigation frequency and amounts in compensation forest plantations in semiarid central Chile.


Water balance Forest plantations Native species Copper mining impacts 



This study was funded by Antofagasta Minerals through a research agreement with the Faculty of Forestry & Nature Conservation, University of Chile, entitled “Water use efficiency of plant species in forest plantations in the Coquimbo Region (2014–2016)”. We gratefully acknowledged the contribution of Mar Quiñonero and José Miguel Pardo for the technical support and dedication carrying out intensive field work. We gratefully acknowledge the valuable comments and suggestions made to improve the manuscript by the reviewers and the editor of New Forests.

Supplementary material

11056_2018_9689_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (9.3 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 9532 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Forestry and Nature ConservationUniversidad de ChileLa PintanaChile

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