Dynamics of phreatophyte root growth relative to a seasonally fluctuating water table in a Mediterranean-type environment
Faculty of Computing, Health and Science
School of Natural Sciences / Centre for Ecosystem Management
While seasonal redistribution of fine root biomass in response to fluctuations in groundwater level is often inferred in phreatophytic plants, few studies have observed the in situ growth dynamics of deep roots relative to those near the surface. We investigated the root growth dynamics of two Banksia species accessing a seasonally dynamic water table and hypothesized that root growth phenology varied with depth, i. e. root growth closest to the water table would be influenced by water table dynamics rather than surface micro-climate. Root in-growth bags were used to observe the dynamics of root growth at different soil depths and above-ground growth was also assessed to identify whole-plant growth phenology. Root growth at shallow depths was found to be in synchrony with above-ground growth phenophases, following increases in ambient temperature and soil water content. In contrast, root growth at depth was either constant or suppressed by saturation. Root growth above the water table and within the capillary fringe occurred in all seasons, corresponding with consistent water availability and aerobic conditions. However, at the water table, a seasonal cycle of root elongation with drawdown in summer followed by trimming in response to water table rise and saturation in winter, was observed. The ability to grow roots year-round at the capillary fringe and redistribute fine root biomass in response to groundwater drawdown is considered critical in allowing phreatophytes, in seasonally water-limited environments, to maintain access to groundwater throughout the year.