Eucalyptus water use greater than rainfall input - possible explanation from southern India
Abstract. Hydrological and silvicultural studies carried out in southern India on the effects of plantations of Eucalyptus and other fast growing exotic tree species have determined the impacts of these plantations on water resources, erosion, soil nutrient status and growth rates at sites of differing rainfall and soil depth in Karnataka. Whilst providing new information on these issues, the studies also raised two important questions: what was the explanation for the anomalous result that the water use of 3400 mm from Eucalyptus plantations at Hosakote over a three year period exceeded the rainfall of 2100 mm over the same period and why were growth rates of woodlots on most farmer's fields higher than those of plantations on land owned by the Karnataka Forest Department? The records of the soil moisture depletion patterns under these plantations from the day of planting provide the basis for the answers to both questions: i) whilst roots are penetrating into deeper soil layers, they are able to extract from a reservoir of water additional to that available from the rainfall each year, ii) farmer's land on which short rooted agricultural crops have been grown previously is likely to have a much higher soil water status than land previously under forest or scrub vegetation. These new studies have also established that the development of the drying front under the Eucalyptus camaldulensis plantations is very rapid, indicating average root extension rates in excess of 2.5 m per year, whilst those under Tectona grandis and Artocarpus heterophyllus advanced at approximately half the rate. These results have obvious implications for the long term sustainability of growth rates from these plantations and the recharge of groundwater.
The authors believe that this study may be the first to report neutron probe soil moisture depletion observations, from the date of planting, beneath tree plantations in a dry climate. The extent to which the roots were able to penetrate raises the question of whether other studies, which have estimated water use from soil moisture observations in dry climates, may have seriously underestimated both the actual soil moisture depletion and the water use through having soil moisture measurements located to insufficient depth.