- Cox, G.; D.G. Fischer; S.C. Hart; and T.G. Whitham
Studies have demonstrated that some riparian trees may switch their reliance on surface soil water (unsaturated or vadose zone) to groundwater (saturated zone) sources during the growing season in association with changes in moisture availability. A closely related question is: How do these trees respond to pulse increases in water availability in previously dry zones? We tested the whole-tree physiological response of 6 natural Populus angustifolia genotypes to water additions during the peak of summer drought in northern Utah, USA. We found clear evidence that trees were insensitive to water additions to the surface soil that were twice the magnitude of whole-tree transpiration rates. Our results suggest that some cottonwoods may have little immediate transpiration or leaf conductance response to pulse soil moisture increases. This lack of response may be related to a water use strategy associated with regional climate patterns (i.e., genetic or environmental programming), cavitation recovery, or other physical determinants of water use such as depth to groundwater. Our data suggest that it is important to consider potential nonresponsiveness to changes in soil water availability when evaluating the impact of climate change on these important and productive ecosystems.