Plant and Soil

, Volume 305, Issue 1–2, pp 121–130 | Cite as

The response of sap flow to pulses of rain in a temperate Australian woodland

  • Melanie ZeppelEmail author
  • Catriona M. O. Macinnis-Ng
  • Chelcy R. Ford
  • Derek Eamus
Regular Article


In water-limited systems, pulses of rainfall can trigger a cascade of plant physiological responses. However, the timing and size of the physiological response can vary depending on plant and environmental characteristics, such as rooting depth, plant size, rainfall amount, or antecedent soil moisture. We investigated the influence of pulses of rainfall on the response of sap flow of two dominant evergreen tree species, Eucalyptus crebra (a broadleaf) and Callitris glaucophylla (a needle leaved tree), in a remnant open woodland in eastern Australia. Sap flow data were collected using heat-pulse sensors installed in six trees of each species over a 2 year period which encompassed the tail-end of a widespread drought. Our objectives were to estimate the magnitude that a rainfall pulse had to exceed to increase tree water use (i.e., define the threshold response), and to determine how tree and environmental factors influenced the increase in tree water use following a rainfall pulse. We used data filtering techniques to isolate rainfall pulses, and analysed the resulting data with multivariate statistical analysis. We found that rainfall pulses less than 20 mm did not significantly increase tree water use (P > 0.05). Using partial regression analysis to hold all other variables constant, we determined that the size of the rain event (P < 0.05, R 2 = 0.59), antecedent soil moisture (P < 0.05, R 2 = 0.29), and tree size (DBH, cm, P < 0.05, R 2 = 0.15), all significantly affected the response to rainfall. Our results suggest that the conceptual Threshold-Delay model describing physiological responses to rainfall pulses could be modified to include these factors. We further conclude that modelling of stand water use over an annual cycle could be improved by incorporating the T-D behaviour of tree transpiration.


Rain pulses Sap flow Soil moisture Threshold-delay model Transpiration rate 



Weather data were provided by the NSW Department of Agriculture (Department of Industry and Primary Natural Resources). This project was conducted in collaboration with the State Forests of NSW and the NSW Department of Agriculture. We thank the Cudmores for providing access to their property, Paringa. Funding was provided by the CRC for Greenhouse Accounting, State Forests of NSW, IWERM and MZ was funded by an APA (I) during this project. We are grateful to Daniel Taylor, Tony O’Grady, and Stephen Burgess for useful discussion and helpful comments from two anonymous reviewers.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melanie Zeppel
    • 1
    Email author
  • Catriona M. O. Macinnis-Ng
    • 1
  • Chelcy R. Ford
    • 2
  • Derek Eamus
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Water and Environmental Resource Management and Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of TechnologySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.USDA Forest Service SRS Coweeta Hydrologic LabOttoUSA

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