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Alteration in isotopic composition of gross rainfall as it is being partitioned into throughfall and stemflow by xerophytic shrub canopies within water-limited arid desert ecosystems

Zhang, Ya-feng, Wang, Xin-ping, Pan, Yan-xia, Hu, Rui
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.692 pp. 631-639
Caragana korshinskii, biogeochemistry, canopy, deuterium, evaporation, forest ecosystems, hydrology, rain, shrubs, stable isotopes, stemflow, throughfall, vegetation, China
Isotopic composition of gross rainfall has been extensively used as a conservative tracer to track water movement and other hydrological processes in vegetated ecosystems. Recent studies from forest ecosystems, however, demonstrated that vegetation canopies can alter the isotopic composition of rainwater during rainfall partitioning into throughfall and stemflow, likely leading to errors and biases in aforementioned studies. No known studies, to date, had investigated this topic in shrub-dominated arid and semi-arid ecosystems where water is typically the driving factor in ecological, hydrological and biogeochemical processes. In this study, event-based gross rainfall, the throughfall and stemflow induced by shrubs of Caragana korshinskii were measured and samples were collected within a water-limited arid desert ecosystem of northern China, and their water stable isotopes (18O and 2H) were also analyzed in the laboratory. We mainly aimed to investigate whether there is an isotopic enrichment or depletion in stemflow and throughfall in comparison to gross rainfall, and to evaluate the possible underlying mechanisms. Our results indicated an enrichment of both isotopes in stemflow, while a general more depletion in throughfall than in gross rainfall, which is presumably affected by a combinative effects of canopy evaporation, isotopic exchange, and selective canopy storage. Deuterium excess of stemflow were found to be significantly higher (P < 0.05) than that of gross rainfall and throughfall. Moreover, we detected the pronounced “amount effect”, with a significant (P < 0.05) negative relationship between isotopic composition and the amount of gross rainfall, throughfall, and stemflow, respectively. Our study is expected to contribute to an improved understanding of physical processes and water routing in shrub canopies within vast arid desert ecosystems.