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Water Uptake in Woody Riparian Phreatophytes of the Southwestern United States: A Stable Isotope Study

Busch, David E., Ingraham, Neil L., Smith, Stanley D.
Ecological applications 1992 v.2 no.4 pp. 450-459
Populus fremontii, Salix, Tamarix ramosissima, absorption, alluvial soils, aquifers, canopy, capacitance, cumulative exposure, ecosystems, evaporation, floodplains, forests, groundwater, growing season, heartwood, hydrochemistry, indigenous species, introduced species, mixing, phloem, phreatophytes, plant communities, rivers, sap, sapwood, soil water, stable isotopes, water potential, water table, water uptake, Arizona, Colorado
Alluvial forest associations are often dominated by woody phreatophytes, plants that are tightly linked to aquifers for water uptake. Anthropogenic hydrological alterations (e.g., water impoundment or diversion) are of clear importance to riparian ecosystem function. Because decreased frequency of flooding and depression of water tables may, in effect, sever riparian plants from their natural water sources, research was undertaken to determine water uptake patterns for the dominant native and introduced woody taxa of riparian plant communities of the southwestern United States. At floodplain study sites along the Bill Williams and lower Colorado Rivers (Arizona, USA), naturally occurring D and ¹ ⁸O were used to distinguish among potential water sources. Isotopic ratios from potential uptake locations were compared to water extracted from the dominant woody taxa of the study area (Populus fremontii, Salix gooddingii, and Tamarix ramosissima) to elucidate patterns of water absorption. Isotopic composition of water obtained from sapwood cores did not differ significantly from heartwood or branch water, suggesting that heartwood water exchange, stem capacitance, and phloem sap mixing may be inconsequential in actively transpiring Salix and Populus. There was evidence for close hydrologic linkage of river, ground, and soil water during the early part of the growing season. Surface soils exhibited D enrichment due to cumulative exposure to evaporation as the growing season progressed. Isotopic ratios of water extracted from Populus and Salix did not exhibit isotopic enrichment and were not significantly different from groundwater or saturated soil water sources, indicating a phreatophytic uptake pattern. Associations of isotopic ratios with water relations parameters indicated high levels of canopy evaporation and possible use of moisture from unsaturated alluvial soils in addition to groundwater in Tamarix.