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Tree Physiol. 2002 Jun;22(9):603-12.

Hydraulic redistribution of soil water by neotropical savanna trees.

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  • 1Laboratorio de Ecologia Funcional, Departamento de Biologia, FCEN, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Ciudad Universitaria, Nunez, Buenos Aires, Argentina.


The magnitude and direction of water transport by the roots of eight dominant Brazilian savanna (Cerrado) woody species were determined with a heat pulse system that allowed bidirectional measurements of sap flow. The patterns of sap flow observed during the dry season in species with dimorphic root systems were consistent with the occurrence of hydraulic redistribution of soil water, the movement of water from moist to drier regions of the soil profile via plant roots. In these species, shallow roots exhibited positive sap flow (from the soil into the plant) during the day and negative sap flow (from the plant into the soil) during the night. Sap flow in the taproots was positive throughout the 24-h period. Diel fluctuations in soil water potential, with maximum values occurring at night, provided evidence for partial rewetting of upper soil layers by water released from shallow roots. In other species, shallow roots exhibited negative sap flow during both the day and night, indicating that hydraulic redistribution was occurring continuously. A third sap flow pattern was observed at the end of the dry season after a heavy rainfall event when sap flow became negative in the taproot, and positive in the small roots, indicating movement of water from upper soil layers into shallow roots, and then into taproots and deeper soil layers. Experimental manipulations employed to evaluate the response of hydraulic redistribution to changes in plant and environmental conditions included watering the soil surface above shallow roots, decreasing transpiration by covering the plant and cutting roots where probes were inserted. Natural and manipulated patterns of sap flow in roots and stems were consistent with passive movement of water toward competing sinks in the soil and plant. Because dry shallow soil layers were often a stronger sink than the shoot, we suggest that the presence of a dimorphic root system in deciduous species may play a role in facilitating leaf expansion near the end of the dry season when the soil surrounding shallow lateral roots is still dry.

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