Physiological impacts of groundwater and surface water application on desert graminoids of different geographic origin Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/ft848t29s

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  • Desert plant communities are among the most sensitive to changes in soil water conditions. In areas with shallow aquifers, it is important to understand both the effects of groundwater alterations on vegetation and how changes in surface-soil water affect plant water uptake. Studies in arid environments have evaluated the effect of groundwater variation and simulated precipitation on plant production and vegetation condition but it is not clear if plants respond equally to the availability of surface water or groundwater. This study was conducted in a greenhouse to evaluate growth and physiology of three desert graminoids (Distichlis spicata, Leymus triticoides, and Juncus arcticus) as affected by surface water availability (mimicking precipitation) or subsurface water availability (mimicking groundwater). The species of study are amply distributed in wetlands and open rangelands of western USA and were collected from two sources of ecological distribution: an area near Bishop, California, and an area near Burns, Oregon. The Bishop, California area has a characteristic shallow aquifer and plants in this area are considered somewhat dependent on groundwater. The Burns, Oregon, area sustains the same species but in a variety of soil moisture conditions. We had two general hypotheses for this study: 1) that the use of surface water is favored over groundwater and 2) that there are ecotypic differences in the response of the species to water availability. The first hypothesis was partially supported by the results of the study, but variability existed among species. However, when all species had equal access to both surface soil water and groundwater plants tended to preferentially use surface water. The second hypothesis was clearly supported by our results. Although the mechanism is not clear, it is possible that an area with periodic and predictable shallow groundwater underlying a dry or saline soil layer, such as the California site, might favor plant ecotypes with high proficiency in water acquisition by deeper roots. Knowledge of water use characteristics of vegetation is essential to provide management guidelines for areas where plants depend on both surface-soil water and groundwater. This study contributed to that knowledge. Further studies on ecotypic variation and an expansion to different species that inhabit areas with shallow aquifers are recommended.
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