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Oecologia. 2011 Aug;166(4):899-911. doi: 10.1007/s00442-011-1953-9. Epub 2011 Mar 13.

In situ separation of root hydraulic redistribution of soil water from liquid and vapor transport.

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  • 1Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN 37831-6301, USA.


Nocturnal increases in water potential (ψ) and water content (θ) in the upper soil profile are often attributed to root water efflux, a process termed hydraulic redistribution (HR). However, unsaturated liquid or vapor flux of water between soil layers independent of roots also contributes to the daily recovery in θ (Δθ), confounding efforts to determine the actual magnitude of HR. We estimated liquid (J(l)) and vapor (J(v)) soil water fluxes and their impacts on quantifying HR in a seasonally dry ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forest by applying existing datasets of ψ, θ and temperature (T) to soil water transport equations. As soil drying progressed, unsaturated hydraulic conductivity declined rapidly such that J (l) was irrelevant (<2E-05 mm h(-1) at 0-60 cm depths) to total water flux by early August. Vapor flux was estimated to be the highest in upper soil (0-15 cm), driven by large T fluctuations, and confounded the role of HR, if any, in nocturnal θ dynamics. Within the 15-35 cm layer, J(v) contributed up to 40% of hourly increases in nocturnal soil moisture. While both HR and net soil water flux between adjacent layers contribute to θ in the 15-65 cm soil layer, HR was the dominant process and accounted for at least 80% of the daily recovery in θ. The absolute magnitude of HR is not easily quantified, yet total diurnal fluctuations in upper soil water content can be quantified and modeled, and remain highly applicable for establishing the magnitude and temporal dynamics of total ecosystem water flux.

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