Dry season conditions determine wet season water use in the wet-dry tropical savannas of northern Australia

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Journal Article
Tree Physiology, 2000, 20 (18), pp. 1219 - 1226
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Daily and seasonal patterns of transpiration were measured in evergreen eucalypt trees growing at a wet (Darwin), intermediate (Katherine) and dry site (Newcastle Waters) along a steep rainfall gradient in a north Australian savanna. Relationships between tree size and tree water use were also determined. Diameter at breast height (DBH) was an excellent predictor of sapwood area in the five eucalypt species sampled along the rainfall gradient. A single relationship existed for all species at all sites. Mean daily water use was also correlated to DBH in both wet and dry seasons. There were no significant differences in the relationship between DBH and tree water use at Darwin or Katherine. Among the sites, tree water use was lowest at Newcastle Waters at all DBHs. The relationship between DBH and tree leaf area was similar between species and locations, but the slope of the relationship was less at the end of the dry season than at the end of the wet season at all locations. There was a strong relationship between sapwood area and leaf area that was similar at all sites along the gradient. Transpiration rates were significantly lower in trees at the driest site than at the other sites, but there were no significant differences in transpiration rates between trees growing at Darwin and Katherine. Transpiration rates did not vary significantly between seasons at any site. At all sites, there was only a 10% decline in water use per tree between the wet and dry seasons. A monthly aridity index (pan evaporation/rainfall) and predawn leaf water potential showed strong seasonal patterns. It is proposed that dry season conditions exert control on tree water use during the wet season, possibly through an effect on xylem structure.
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