Species-specific patterns of hydraulic lift in co-occurring adult trees and grasses in a sandhill community. Academic Article uri icon


  • Plants can significantly affect ecosystem water balance by hydraulic redistribution (HR) from dry to wet soil layers via roots (also called hydraulic lift, HL, when the redistribution is from deep to shallow soil). However, the information on how co-occurring species in natural habitats differ in HL ability is insufficient. In a field study, we compared HL ability of four tree species (including three congeneric oak species) and two C4 bunch grass species that co-occur in subxeric habitats of fall-line sandhills in southeastern USA. Soil water potentials (psi(s)) were recorded hourly for 3 years both in large chambers that isolated roots for each species and outside the chambers. Outside of root chambers, soil drying occurred periodically in the top 25 cm and corresponded with lack of precipitation during the summer growing season. Soil moisture was continuously available at a 1 m depth. HL activity was observed in three of the tree species, with greater frequency for Pinus palustris than for Quercus laevis and Q. incana. The fourth tree species Q. margaretta did not exhibit HL activity even though it experienced a similar psi(s) gradient. For the C4 bunch grasses, Aristida stricta exhibited a small amount of HL activity, but Schizachyrium scoparium did not. The capacity for HL activity may be linked to the species ecological distribution. The four species that exhibited HL activity in this subxeric habitat are also dominant in adjacent xeric sandhill habitats, whereas the species that did not exhibit HL are scarcely found in the xeric areas. This is consistent with other studies that found greater fine root survival in dry soil for the four xeric species exhibiting HL activity. The differential ability of these species to redistribute water from the deep soil to the rapidly drying shallow soil likely has a strong effect on the water balance of sandhill plant communities, and is likely linked to their differential distribution across edaphic gradients.

published proceedings

  • Oecologia

altmetric score

  • 3

author list (cited authors)

  • Espeleta, J. F., West, J. B., & Donovan, L. A.

citation count

  • 84

complete list of authors

  • Espeleta, JF||West, JB||Donovan, LA

publication date

  • January 2004