Speculations on the application of foliar 13C discrimination to reveal groundwater dependency of vegetation and provide estimates of root depth and rates of groundwater use

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 2018, 22 (9), pp. 4875 - 4889
Issue Date:
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© Author(s) 2018. Groundwater-dependent vegetation is globally distributed, having important ecological, social, and economic value. Along with the groundwater resources upon which it depends, this vegetation is under increasing threat through excessive rates of groundwater extraction. In this study we examined one shallow-rooted and two deep-rooted tree species at multiple sites along a naturally occurring gradient in depth-to-groundwater. We measured (i) stable isotope ratios of leaves (δ 13C), xylem, and groundwater (δ 2H and δ 18O); and (ii) leaf-vein density. We established that foliar discrimination of 13C (Δ13C) is a reliable indicator of groundwater use by vegetation and can also be used to estimate rooting depth. Through comparison with a continental-scale assessment of foliar Δ13C, we also estimated the upper limits to annual rates of groundwater use. We conclude that maximum rooting depth for both deep-rooted species ranged between 9.4 and 11.2 m and that annual rates of groundwater use ranged from ca. 1400 to 1700 mm for Eucalyptus camaldulensis and from 600 to 900 mm for Corymbia opaca. Several predictions about hydraulic and leaf traits arising from the conclusion that these two species made extensive use of groundwater were supported by additional independent studies of these species in central Australia.
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