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Throughfall reduction in a cacao agroforest: tree water use and soil water budgeting

Köhler, Michael, Schwendenmann, Luitgard, Hölscher, Dirk
Agricultural and forest meteorology 2010 v.150 no.7-8 pp. 1079-1089
Theobroma cacao, cocoa products, specialty crops, water uptake, soil water content, Gliricidia, shade trees, throughfall, sap flow, plant available water, transpiration, drainage, soil water storage, El Nino, relative humidity, water vapor, soil depth, canopy gaps, unsaturated flow, equations, precipitation, agroforestry, Indonesia
In a cacao agroforest with Gliricidia shade trees we studied the effects of experimentally reduced throughfall on tree sap flux densities and soil water budget. The objectives of our study were: (1) to identify the response of cacao and Gliricidia sap flux densities to reduced soil water availability, and (2) to analyze the changes in stand level soil water partitioning, measured as changes in transpiration, drainage and soil moisture storage under reduced throughfall. The study was conducted in Sulawesi, Indonesia at a site where ambient precipitation was 2841mmyr⁻¹. The research site was subdivided into three control plots and three plastic roof plots in which net precipitation was reduced by 71% through the use of a sub-canopy roof for 13 months, to create rainfall conditions similar to an extended El Niño event. The two species differed in their sap flux response to declining soil water content. Daily Gliricidia sap flux declined at higher soil water contents than cacao, while Gliricidia sap flux declined in response to all levels of vapor pressure deficit (VPD) and cacao only responded to high levels of VPD. Average monthly sap flux densities of cacao and Gliricidia in the roof plots decreased linearly with decreasing soil water content reaching a maximum reduction of 21% (cacao) and 29% (Gliricidia) as compared to control plots. Cacao withdrew water mainly from the topsoil where small amounts of throughfall entering gaps in the roof frequently rewetted the soil. Therefore the competition between the two species for water resources during long periods with only little precipitation was low or in favor of cacao. Average daily stand transpiration was 1.3mm in roof plots and 1.5mm in control plots. Measured soil water contents were simulated satisfactorily by the application of a one-dimensional soil water model based on Richards unsaturated flow equation. The model suggested that drainage amounted to 1554mmyr⁻¹ in control plots. Drainage in roof plots was greatly reduced, totaling 299mmyr⁻¹. Soil moisture storage in the control underwent minor variations while it was heavily reduced in roof plots. Drainage in roof plots was a large driver of changes in soil moisture storage especially in deeper soil layers while precipitation and root water uptake were the main influencing factors for the topsoil. Deep root water uptake seemed to play a minor role in this experiment. Despite the strong reduction in net precipitation, declines in stand transpiration were moderate, suggesting that the stand did not react sensitively to the reduced throughfall scenario.