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

Water relations of selected wallum species in dry sclerophyll woodland on the lower north coast of New South Wales, Australia

Susan Rutherford A , Stephen J. Griffith A B C and Nigel W. M. Warwick A
+ Author Affliations
- Author Affliations

A Botany, School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia.

B Present address: PO Box 145, Old Bar, NSW 2430, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email: stephengriffith7@bigpond.com

Australian Journal of Botany 61(4) 254-265 https://doi.org/10.1071/BT13037
Submitted: 2 July 2012  Accepted: 11 March 2013   Published: 26 April 2013

Abstract

The present study examined the water relations of wallum dry sclerophyll woodland on the lower north coast of New South Wales (NSW). Wallum is the regionally distinct vegetation of Quaternary dunefields and beach ridge plains along the eastern coast of Australia. Wallum sand masses contain large aquifers, and previous studies have suggested that many of the plant species may be groundwater dependent. However, the extent of this dependency is largely unknown, despite an increasing reliance on the aquifers for groundwater extraction. Fifteen species from five growth-form categories and seven plant families were investigated. The pre-dawn and midday xylem water potential (ψx) of all species was monitored over a 20-month period from December 2007 to July 2009. Pressure–volume curve traits were determined for each species in late autumn 2008, including the osmotic potential at full (π100) and zero (π0) turgor, and bulk modulus of elasticity (ε). Carbon isotope ratios (δ13C) were determined in mid-autumn 2008 to measure water use efficiency (WUE). Comparative differences in water relations could be loosely related to growth forms. A tree (Eucalyptus racemosa subsp. racemosa) and most large shrubs had low midday ψx, π100 and π0, and high ε and WUE; whereas the majority of small and medium shrubs had high midday ψx, π100 and π0, and low ε and WUE. However, some species of similar growth form displayed contrasting behaviour in their water relations (e.g. the herbs Caustis recurvata var. recurvata and Hypolaena fastigiata), and such differences require further investigation. The results suggest that E. racemosa subsp. racemosa is likely to be groundwater dependent, and large shrubs such as Banksia aemula may also utilise groundwater. Both species are widespread in wallum, and therefore have the potential to play a key role in monitoring ecosystem health where aquifers are subject to groundwater extraction.

Additional keywords: elasticity, groundwater dependency, osmotic potential, water potential, water use efficiency.


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