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Evaporation of perennial semi‐arid woodland in southeastern Australia is adapted for irregular but common dry periods

Meyer, W. S., Kondrlovà, E., Koerber, G. R.
Hydrological processes 2015 v.29 no.17 pp. 3714-3726
autumn, ecosystems, eddy covariance, energy flow, equations, evaporation, evapotranspiration, groundwater recharge, instrumentation, leaf area index, normalized difference vegetation index, photography, plant available water, plant response, rain, rhizosphere, seasonal variation, semiarid zones, summer, water vapor, wind, woodlands, Australia
Measurements of water vapour flux from semi‐arid perennial woodland (mallee) were made for 3 years using eddy covariance instrumentation. There have been no previous long‐term, detailed measures of water use in this ecosystem. Latent energy flux (LE) on a half hourly basis was the measure of the combined soil and plant evaporation, ‘evapotranspiration’ (ELE) of the site. Aggregation over 3 years of the site measured rain (1136 mm) and the estimated evaporation (794 mm) suggests that 342 mm or 30% of rain had moved into or past the root zone of the vegetation. Above average rainfall during 2011 and the first quarter of 2012 (633 mm, 15 months) would likely have been the period during which significant groundwater recharge occurred. At times immediately after rainfall, ELE rates were the same or exceeded estimates of potential E calculated from a suitably parameterized Penman–Monteith (EPMₒ) equation. Apparent free water E from plant interception and soil evaporation was about 2.3 mm and lasted for 1.3 days following rainfall in summer, while in autumn, E was 5.1 mm that lasted over 5.4 days. The leaf area index (LAI) needed to adjust a wind function calibrated Penman equation (EPMₑ) to match the ELE values could be back calculated to generate seasonal change in LAI from 0.12 to 0.46 and compared well with normalized difference vegetation index; r = 0.38 and p = 0.0213* and LAI calculated from digital cover photography. The apparently conservative response of perennial vegetation evaporation to available water in these semi‐arid environments reinforces the conclusion that these ecosystems use this mechanism to survive the reasonably common dry periods. Plant response to soil water availability is primarily through gradual changes in leaf area. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.