Can hydraulic redistribution put bread on our table?
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Hydraulic redistribution is the process where soil water is translocated by plant roots from wet to dry areas as it is drawn through xylem pathways by a water potential gradient. Hydraulic redistribution places soil water resources where they would otherwise not be, which results in a range of ecological and hydrological consequences. Although deep-rooted plants can transfer water up from depth into shallow soil layers, any localised ‘irrigation’ of neighbouring plants tends to be obscured by recovery of the very same water by the donor plants during daytime transpiration. A new intercropping system was recently trialled which eliminates transpiration by the donor plant through complete shoot removal in order to maximise hydraulic redistribution. In the absence of any transpiring shoots, the donor plants are left to wick water up from depth 24 hours a day via their root systems, to the benefit of neighbouring shallow-rooted crops. This system allows deeper-rooted ‘nurse plants’ to capture water that is out of reach of crops in a ‘water safety-net’ role, which may be of considerable benefit in water-scarce environments.
KeywordsAgroforestry Competition for water Hydraulic lift Hydraulic redistribution Intercropping Safety-net hypothesis Water safety-net Water scarcity
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