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Modeling and assessing the function and sustainability of natural patches in salt-affected agro-ecosystems: Application to tamarisk (Tamarix chinensis Lour.) in Hetao, upper Yellow River basin

Ren, Dongyang, Xu, Xu, Ramos, Tiago B., Huang, Quanzhong, Huo, Zailin, Huang, Guanhua
Journal of hydrology 2017 v.552 pp. 490-504
Tamarix chinensis, agroecosystems, biodiversity, cropland, drainage, evaporation, evapotranspiration, field experimentation, groundwater, growing season, irrigated farming, irrigation, models, monitoring, rhizosphere, rooting, salt stress, salts, soil, subsurface flow, vegetation, water management, water table, watersheds, Yellow River
Relatively low-lying zones of natural vegetation within irrigated areas are not only carriers of biodiversity but also dry drainage areas of excess water and salts applied to nearby croplands. It is thus useful to have a correct understanding of the soil water-salt dynamics and plant water use for keeping the sustainability of those natural areas. The HYDRUS-dualKc model that couples the HYDRUS-1D model with the FAO-56 dualKc approach was extended to simulate the eco-hydrological processes in natural patches of Hetao Irrigation District (Hetao), upper Yellow River basin. Field experiments were conducted in a tamarisk (Tamarix chinensis Lour.) dominated area during the growing seasons of 2012 and 2013. The model was calibrated and validated using the two-year experimental data, and applied to analyze the water and salt dynamics and the tamarisk water consumption for the present situation. Then, various groundwater depth (i.e. the depth from groundwater surface to water table, GWD) scenarios were simulated while considering the fluctuating and constant regimes of GWD changes, as well as variations of the rooting depth. Results indicated that this natural land functioned efficiently as a drainage area for subsurface flow and excess salt from surrounding croplands. However, the present GWDs were too shallow leading to high soil evaporation and severe salt stress. The soil evaporation accounted for 50% of the total evapotranspiration (ETa) while root zone salt storage increased about 50% during growing seasons. On the basis of scenario analysis, an optimum groundwater depth of 140–200 cm with smaller fluctuation was suggested for the growing seasons of natural patches. In addition, tamarisk growth could be largely improved if the roots can grow deeper with water table decline in the future. We demonstrated that monitoring and modeling could be used to support the development of water management strategies in Hetao aimed at conserving water while sustaining local ecosystems.