Australian Journal of Botany Australian Journal of Botany Society
Southern hemisphere botanical ecosystems

Tree water sources over shallow, saline groundwater in the lower River Murray, south-eastern Australia: implications for groundwater recharge mechanisms

K. L. Holland A D , S. D. Tyerman B , L. J. Mensforth C and G. R. Walker A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A CSIRO Land and Water, PMB 2, Glen Osmond, SA 5064, Australia.

B University of Adelaide, School of Agriculture and Wine, PMB 1, Glen Osmond, SA 5064, Australia.

C Department of Water, Land and Biodiversity Conservation, GPO Box 2834, Adelaide, SA 5001, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email:

Australian Journal of Botany 54(2) 193-205
Submitted: 10 February 2005  Accepted: 28 November 2005   Published: 2006


The decline of riparian vegetation in the lower River Murray, south-eastern Australia, is associated with a reduction in flooding frequency, extent and duration, and increased salt accumulation. The plant water sources of healthy Eucalyptus largiflorens trees growing over highly saline (>40 dS m–1) groundwater were investigated during summer when water deficit is greatest. The study found low-salinity soil water overlying highly saline groundwater at most sites. This deep soil water, rather than the saline groundwater, was identified as the plant water source at most sites. Stable isotopes of water and water potential measurements were used to infer how the deep soil water was recharged. The low-salinity, deep soil water was recharged in the following two ways: (1) vertically through the soil profile or via preferential flow paths by rainfall or flood waters or (2) horizontally by bank recharge from surface water on top of the saline groundwater. Vertical infiltration of rainfall and floodwaters through cracking clays was important for trees growing in small depressions, whereas infiltration of rainfall through sandy soils was important for trees growing at the break of slope. Bank recharge was important for trees growing within ~50 m of permanent and ephemeral water bodies. The study has provided a better understanding of the spatial patterns of recharge at a scale relevant to riparian vegetation. This understanding is important for the management of floodplain vegetation growing in a saline, semi-arid environment.


The first author was supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award scholarship and Centre for Groundwater Studies bursary at the time of the project at the Flinders University of South Australia, under the supervision of Glen Walker, Steve Tyerman, Craig Simmons, Lisa Mensforth and Andrew Telfer. Land and Water Australia (Project CWS8—Guidelines for Managing Groundwater for Vegetation Health in Saline Areas), CSIRO Land and Water, the Flinders University of South Australia Flinders Institute for Research in Science and Technology and the River Murray Catchment Water Management Board provided funding towards this project. The assistance of Kerryn McEwan with isotope and field sampling is gratefully acknowledged. The comments of Ian Jolly, Sebastien Lamontagne and two anonymous reviewers improved the manuscript.


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