Plant and Soil

, Volume 253, Issue 1, pp 275–286 | Cite as

Floodwater infiltration through root channels on a sodic clay floodplain and the influence on a local tree species Eucalyptus largiflorens



Dieback of riparian species on floodplains has been attributed to increased soil salinisation due to raised groundwater levels, resulting from irrigation and river regulation. This is exacerbated by a reduction in flooding frequency and duration of inundation. For the Chowilla floodplain on the River Murray raised water tables have increased the amount of salts mobilised in the soil profile, causing the trees to experience salt induced water stress. For the trees to survive in the long term, salts need to be leached from the root zone.

This study investigated whether floodwater infiltrates through channels created by E. largiflorens (black box) roots, flushing salts away from roots, thereby allowing the trees to increase their water uptake. Trees at different sites on the floodplain were artificially flooded, by pumping 1.5 kL of creek water into impoundments constructed around the trees. Gas exchange parameters, and pre-dawn and midday water potential were measured the day before, the day after and one week after the artificial flood and compared against trees that were not flooded. Pre-dawn and midday water potentials were also measured one month after the flood. After flooding, the trees experienced less water stress, indicated by an increase in water potential of less than 0.2 MPa, in comparison to non-flooded control trees. However, this response was not evident one month after flooding. The response to flooding did not result in increased rates of transpiration, stomatal conductance or photosynthesis, even though flooding effectively doubled the trees yearly water supply.

The infiltration of floodwater in the impoundments around E. largiflorens was also compared to that of impoundments on bare ground. Floodwater infiltrated 2 – 17 times faster around trees than on adjacent bare ground, for parts of the floodplain not grazed by livestock. Tracer dye experiments indicated that bulk flow of water through pores down the profile was the reason for the enhanced infiltration. Flooding leached salts in direct vicinity of tree roots, but only leached small amounts of salts from the bulk soil.

biopores Eucalyptus largiflorens flooding preferential flowpaths salinity 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesFlinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia
  2. 2.School of Earth SciencesFlinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia

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