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Hydraulic lift: soil processes and transpiration in the Mediterranean leguminous shrub Retama sphaerocarpa (L.) Boiss

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Hydraulic lift (HL) is the process by which plants can passively transfer water from deep, moist soil layers to shallow, dry soil layers. Although it has attracted recent research interest, a mechanistic understanding and its implications for ecosystem functioning are still lacking. Here we describe HL seasonal patterns in a semi-arid shrub species and its influence on plant water dynamics. We measured soil water availability and plant water status over the course of 1 year. Soil water potential in the rhizosphere of Retama sphaerocarpa (L.) Boiss (Fabaceae) individuals and in adjacent land was recorded using soil psychrometers. Sap flow was recorded simultaneously using the stem heat balance method (SHBM). Our results show a seasonal HL trend linked to mean seasonal soil water potential with greatest HL amplitudes at moderately low water potentials (ca −4 MPa). HL amplitude was negatively affected by nocturnal transpiration, and HL patterns were recorded in all seasons and at water potentials ranging from −0.1 MPa to −8.5 MPa which is consistent with R. sphaerocarpa deep rooting habit and its steady access to ground water.

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Hydraulic lift


Stem heat balance method


Soil water potential


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We thank Francisco Domingo and Luis Villagarcía for help with the sap flow system and related data processing and María José Jorquera, Alejandro Moreno, and Florentino Mostaza for technical support. Cristina Armas, Sean Gleason and José I. Querejeta made helpful comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript. Support from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (Grants CGL2004-03604-C02-01 and CGL2007-63718) is gratefully acknowledged. I.P. was supported by a MICINN-FPI fellowship (BES2005-9280).

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Correspondence to Iván Prieto.

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Responsible Editor: Tibor Kalapos.

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Prieto, I., Kikvidze, Z. & Pugnaire, F.I. Hydraulic lift: soil processes and transpiration in the Mediterranean leguminous shrub Retama sphaerocarpa (L.) Boiss. Plant Soil 329, 447–456 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-009-0170-3

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  • Hydraulic lift (HL)
  • Sap flow
  • Seasonal patterns
  • Soil water potential
  • Stem heat balance method
  • Transpiration processes