Response of Four Shrub Species to Different Water Source Components in an Arid Environment

  •  A. Wagner    
  •  D. A. Devitt    
  •  B. Bird    
  •  R. Jasoni    
  •  J. A. Arnone III    


Shrubland species in the Great Basin (USA) depend on soil water recharged from precipitation and/or groundwater for survival and growth. Climate warming and possible basin water diversion could alter the amount and timing of water availability to these plants. The objective of this study was to quantify the extent to which each of four co-occurring shrub species, big sage [Artemisia tridentata], rabbitbrush [Ericameria nauseosus], greasewood [Sarcobatus vermiculatus] and shadscale [Atriplex confertifolia)) acquired water from different sources (precipitation, soil vadose zone and/or groundwater) during a growing season. Soil salinity increased linearly with depth over the upper 1.5 m of soil, with salinity ranging from 0.84 to 31.70 dSm-1 in saturation extracts (R2=0.78, p<0.001). Changes in soil water both with depth and time during the growing period indicated that all species accessed soil water from precipitation recharge. Evapotranspiration totals for the growing period exceeded total precipitation by 137 mm, indicating that plants also used water stored deeper within the vadose zone and/or from groundwater (particularly) by the phreatophyte greasewood. Delta18O in the soil solution declined linearly with depth over the upper 100 cm (R2=0.80, p<0.001). Delta18O values in greasewood corresponded closely to Delta18O values measured deeper in the vadose zone and groundwater. Output from a mixing model indicated a decrease in groundwater reliance for greasewood from 30% in July to 2% in September, with a major shift to deeper soil water in the vadose zone (180 cm depth) (38% in July to 97% in September). Our data suggested that the four shrub species at our site were able to coexist because of their different spatial, temporal, and physiological uses of available soil water, reflecting possible water resource partitioning based on differences in response to precipitation, ability to extract water at deeper depths and variable tolerance to elevated levels of soil salinity to access groundwater.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
  • ISSN(Print): 1927-0488
  • ISSN(Online): 1927-0496
  • Started: 2011
  • Frequency: semiannual

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