Transpiration increases during the dry season: Patterns of tree water use in eucalypt open-forests of northern Australia

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Journal Article
Tree Physiology, 1999, 19 (9), pp. 591 - 597
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Australian savannas exhibit marked seasonality in precipitation, with more than 90% of the annual total falling between October and May. The dry season is characterized by declining soil water availability and high vapor pressure deficits (up to 2.5 kPa). We used heat pulse technology to measure whole-tree transpiration rates on a daily and seasonal basis for the two dominant eucalypts at a site near Darwin, Australia. Contrary to expectations, transpiration rates were higher during the dry season than during the wet season, largely because of increased evaporative demand and the exploitation of groundwater reserves by the trees. Transpiration rates exhibited a marked hysteresis in relation to vapor pressure deficit, which was more marked in the dry season than in the wet season. This result may be attributable to low soil hydraulic conductivity, or the use of stored stem water, or both. Tree water use was strongly correlated with leaf area and diameter at breast height and there were no differences in transpiration between the species studied. These results are discussed in relation to scaling tree water use to stand water use.
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