A substantial quantity of the water used by plant communities growing on the floor of Owens Valley, California, is derived from a shallow unconfined aquifer. Fluctuations in the water table caused by ground-water withdrawal may result in periods when this water supply is not accessible to plants. The capacity of the plants to adapt to these periods of water loss depends on the availability of water stored in the soil and on physiological characteristics related to the ability of the plants to resist dehydration and wilting.
Osmotic adjustment occurred in four phreatophytic shrub species at sites near Bishop, California, where the water table had been lowered by a system of pump-equipped wells installed in the vicinity of vegetation transects. The pressure-volume technique was used to determine osmotic potential and cell-wall elasticity between March 1985 and September 1986 for Atriplex torreyi, Chrysothamnus nauseosus , Sarcobatus verm iculatus , and Artemisia tridentata. Although not usually classified as a phreatophyte, Artemisia tridentata, where it grows on the valley floor, is apparently dependent on the depth to the water table.
During late summer, osmotic potentials were 0.37 to 0.41 MPa (megapascal) lower in plants growing on the site where the water table had been lowered compared to an adjacent site where the water table remained at its natural levels. Measurements of soil matric potential at the two sites indicated that osmotic adjustment occurred in response to stress caused by lowering the water table.
A theoretical lower limit of osmotic adjustment was determined by comparing initial cell osmotic potentials with initial xylem water potentials. These experimentally derived limits indicated that Atriplex torreyi and S. vermiculatus may maintain leaf cell turgor at significantly lower cell water potentials (about -4.5 MPa) than C. nauseosus or Artemisia tridentata (about -2.5 MPa), which allows them to function in drier soil environments.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Osmotic potential and projected drought tolerance of four phreatophytic shrub species in Owens Valley, California
Water Supply Paper
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