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Volume 22, issue 9 | Copyright
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 22, 4875-4889, 2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 18 Sep 2018

Research article | 18 Sep 2018

Speculations on the application of foliar 13C discrimination to reveal groundwater dependency of vegetation and provide estimates of root depth and rates of groundwater use

Rizwana Rumman, James Cleverly, Rachael H. Nolan, Tonantzin Tarin, and Derek Eamus Rizwana Rumman et al.
  • Terrestrial Ecohydrology Research Group, School of Life Sciences, University of Technology Sydney, P.O. Box 123, Broadway, NSW 2007, Australia

Abstract. Groundwater-dependent vegetation is globally distributed, having important ecological, social, and economic value. Along with the groundwater resources upon which it depends, this vegetation is under increasing threat through excessive rates of groundwater extraction.

In this study we examined one shallow-rooted and two deep-rooted tree species at multiple sites along a naturally occurring gradient in depth-to-groundwater. We measured (i) stable isotope ratios of leaves (δ13C), xylem, and groundwater (δ2H and δ18O); and (ii) leaf-vein density. We established that foliar discrimination of 13C (Δ13C) is a reliable indicator of groundwater use by vegetation and can also be used to estimate rooting depth. Through comparison with a continental-scale assessment of foliar Δ13C, we also estimated the upper limits to annual rates of groundwater use. We conclude that maximum rooting depth for both deep-rooted species ranged between 9.4 and 11.2m and that annual rates of groundwater use ranged from ca. 1400 to 1700mm for Eucalyptus camaldulensis and from 600 to 900mm for Corymbia opaca. Several predictions about hydraulic and leaf traits arising from the conclusion that these two species made extensive use of groundwater were supported by additional independent studies of these species in central Australia.

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Short summary
Groundwater is a significant water resource for humans and for groundwater-dependent vegetation. Several challenges to managing both groundwater resources and dependent vegetation include defining the location of dependent vegetation, the rate of groundwater use, and the depth of roots accessing groundwater. In this study we demonstrate a novel application of measurements of stable isotopes of carbon that can be used to identify the location, the rooting depth, and the rate of groundwater use.
Groundwater is a significant water resource for humans and for groundwater-dependent vegetation....