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

A comparison of tree water use in two contiguous vegetation communities of the seasonally dry tropics of northern Australia: the importance of site water budget to tree hydraulics

G. Kelley A B , A. P. O’Grady A C , L. B. Hutley A D and D. Eamus E F
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A CRC for Tropical Savanna Management, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT 0909, Australia.

B Present address: Bureau of Rural Sciences, GPO Box 858, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

C Present address: School of Plant Science, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tas. 7001, Australia.

D School of Science and Primary Industries, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT 0909, Australia.

E Institute for Water and Environmental Resource Management, University of Technology, Sydney, PO Box 123, Broadway, NSW 2007, Australia.

F Corresponding author. Email: derek.eamus@uts.edu.au

Australian Journal of Botany 55(7) 700-708 https://doi.org/10.1071/BT07021
Submitted: 12 February 2007  Accepted: 28 June 2007   Published: 15 November 2007

Abstract

Tree water use in two contiguous communities (eucalypt open-forest and Melaleuca paperbark forest) was measured in tropical Australia, over a 2-year period. The aims of the study were to (1) quantify daily and seasonal patterns of water use in each community, (2) compare patterns of water use among the communities and (3) compare relationships among tree size, sapwood area and water use within the two contrasting vegetation communities. Access to deep soil water stores and the effect of run-on from the eucalypt forest resulted in a relatively high pre-dawn water potential throughout the year, particularly for Melaleuca forest. There were no differences in daily rates of water use, expressed on a sapwood area (Q s) basis, between the two eucalypt species examined (Eucalyptus miniata Cunn. Ex Schauer and E. tetrodonta F.Muell) at any time in the eucalypt forest. For both the eucalypt and Melaleuca forests, there was less seasonal variation in water use expressed on a leaf area (Q l) basis than on a Q s basis, and neither year nor season were significant factors in Q l. In the mono-specific Melaleuca forest, Q s was not significantly different between years or seasons. Water use on a Q l basis was similarly not significantly different between years or seasons in the Melaleuca forest. Leaf area index (LAI) of the eucalypt forest was about half of that of the Melaleuca forest throughout the year but sapwood area per hectare was 33% larger in the eucalypt than the Melaleuca forest, despite the basal area of the Melaeuca forest being almost double that of the eucalypt forest. There was no significant difference in stand water use (mm day–1) between eucalypt and Melaleuca forests during 1998; however, in 1999 Melaleuca stand water use was larger than that of the eucalypt forest. Because of the enhanced dry-season availability of water in the Melaleuca forest and its larger LAI, average annual water use of the Melaleuca forest was almost 60% larger than that of the eucalypt forest. Despite differences in Q l, Q s and annual water use between forests, the ratio of LAI to stand water use was similar for all seasons in both forests. The applicability of ‘universal rules’ linking tree water use and tree hydraulics and the importance of ecosystem location on site water budgets and plant adaptations are discussed.


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