Diurnal patterns of water use in Eucalyptus victrix indicate pronounced desiccation-rehydration cycles despite unlimited water supply.
ABSTRACT Knowledge about nocturnal transpiration (E(night)) of trees is increasing and its impact on regional water and carbon balance has been recognized. Most of this knowledge has been generated in temperate or equatorial regions. Yet, little is known about E(night) and tree water use (Q) in semi-arid regions. We investigated the influence of atmospheric conditions on daytime (Q(day)) and nighttime water transport (Q(night)) of Eucalyptus victrix L.A.S. Johnson & K.D. Hill growing over shallow groundwater (not >1.5 m in depth) in semi-arid tropical Australia. We recorded Q(day) and Q(night) at different tree heights in conjunction with measurements of stomatal conductance (g(s)) and partitioned E(night) from refilling processes. Q of average-sized trees (200-400 mm diameter) was 1000-3000 l month(-1), but increased exponentially with diameter such that large trees (>500 mm diameter) used up to 8000 l month(-1). Q was remarkably stable across seasons. Water flux densities (J(s)) varied significantly at different tree heights during day and night. We show that g(s) remained significantly different from zero and E(night) was always greater than zero due to vapor pressure deficits (D) that remained >1.5 kPa at night throughout the year. Q(night) reached a maximum of 50% of Q(day) and was >0.03 mm h(-1) averaged across seasons. Refilling began during afternoon hours and continued well into the night. Q(night) eventually stabilized and closely tracked D(night). Coupling of Q(night) and D(night) was particularly strong during the wet season (R2 = 0.95). We suggest that these trees have developed the capacity to withstand a pronounced desiccation-rehydration cycle in a semi-arid environment. Such a cycle has important implications for local and regional hydrological budgets of semi-arid landscapes, as large nighttime water fluxes must be included in any accounting.