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Fog in the California redwood forest: ecosystem inputs and use by plants

Abstract

Fog has been viewed as an important source of moisture in many coastal ecosystems, yet its importance for the plants which inhabit these ecosystems is virtually unknown. Here, I report the results of a 3-year investigation of fog inputs and the use of fog water by plants inhabiting the heavily fog inundated coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) forests of northern California. During the study period, 34%, on average, of the annual hydrologic input was from fog drip off the redwood trees themselves (interception input). When trees were absent, the average annual input from fog was only 17%, demonstrating that the trees significantly influence the magnitude of fog water input to the ecosystem. Stable hydrogen and oxygen isotope analyses of water from fog, rain, soil water, and xylem water extracted from the dominant plant species were used to characterize the water sources used by the plants. An isotopic mixing model was employed to then quantify how much fog water each plant used each month during the 3-year study. In summer, when fog was most frequent, ∼19% of the water within S.sempervirens, and ∼66% of the water within the understory plants came from fog after it had dripped from tree foliage into the soil; for S.sempervirens, this fog water input comprised 13–45% of its annual transpiration. For all plants, there was a significant reliance on fog as a water source, especially in summer when rainfall was absent. Dependence on fog as a moisture source was highest in the year when rainfall was lowest but fog inputs normal. Interestingly, during the mild El Niño year of 1993, when the ratio of rainfall to fog water input was significantly higher and fog inputs were lower, both the proportion and coefficient of variation in how much fog water was used by plants increased. An explanation for this is that while fog inputs were lower than normal in this El Niño year, they came at a time when plant demand for water was highest (summer). Therefore, proportional use of fog water by plants increased. The results presented suggest that fog, as a meteorological factor, plays an important role in the water relations of the plants and in the hydrology of the forest. These results demonstrate the importance of understanding the impacts of climatic factors and their oscillations on the biota. The results have important implications for ecologists, hydrologists, and forest managers interested in fog-inundated ecosystems and the plants which inhabit them.

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Received: 22 April 1998 / Accepted: 1 September 1998

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Dawson, T. Fog in the California redwood forest: ecosystem inputs and use by plants. Oecologia 117, 476–485 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1007/s004420050683

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  • Key words Fog
  • Stable isotopes
  • Redwood forests
  • Hydrology
  • Plant water relations