Can hydraulically redistributed water assist surrounding seedlings during summer drought?
Place of Publication
Centre for Ecosystem Management / School of Science
Plant interaction studies provide a good understanding of the roles of key species, which can assist restoration of natural ecosystems. Among the interactions, facilitation and competition are known to affect ecosystem structure and function. We investigated whether a deep-rooted species could positively affect surrounding seedlings through hydraulic redistribution during dry months. We conducted two experiments in which seedlings from two species were growing together or isolated from source plants (field experiment) and where plants were isolated from source plants that were connected to or separated from a water table (glasshouse experiment). Survival, growth, water relations and soil water content were measured. We also applied δ2H enriched water adjacent to, or into, the roots of source plants to track water movement between plants. Soil water content was higher in shallow layers where source plants could interact with seedlings (field) and when accessing water tables (glasshouse). Seedlings from all treatments had an increase in leaf δ2H. Seedlings of Banksia attenuata that were isolated from source plants had the highest survival, growth and stomatal conductance rates. Seedlings of Gompholobium tomentosum presented higher stomatal conductance rates when growing with source plants than when isolated from them during the first months, but this relationship reversed towards the end of summer. These results suggest that source plants and seedlings competed, but the influence of facilitation and competition might change during the year, at least for the shallow-rooted species. Therefore, competition for water and/or other limiting factors must be considered when planning ecological restoration in such areas