Articles | Volume 17, issue 5
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 2053–2067, 2013
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 2053–2067, 2013

Research article 31 May 2013

Research article | 31 May 2013

Water-use dynamics of a peat swamp forest and a dune forest in Maputaland, South Africa

A. D. Clulow1, C. S. Everson1, J. S. Price2, G. P. W. Jewitt1, and B. C. Scott-Shaw1 A. D. Clulow et al.
  • 1Centre for Water Resources Research, School of Agriculture, Engineering and the Environment, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Private Bag X01, Scottsville, Pietermaritzburg 3209, South Africa
  • 2Department of Geography & Environmental Management, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, N2L 3G1, Canada

Abstract. Peat swamp forests are the second rarest forest type found in South Africa while dune forests have been under severe threat through mining and agriculture. Both forest types exist in the conservation area, and World Heritage site, known as the iSimangaliso Wetland Park on the East coast of South Africa. The area is prone to severe droughts (Taylor et al., 2006) and recent attempts to understand the local water balance revealed that there was insufficient information on the water use of the indigenous forests of the area. The peat swamp forest and dune forest sites studied in this research were located within close proximity to each other, yet, are characterised by different landscape positions in terms of water availability. The coastal dune forest soil profile was generally dry and sandy and the tree roots did not have access to the water table. In contrast the peat swamp forest is located in an interdunal wetland where the trees have permanent access to water. The climate at both sites is subtropical with a mean annual precipitation of 1200 mm yr−1. However, over 20 months of measurement, the first summer (October 2009 to March 2010) was drier (424 versus 735 mm) than the second summer (October 2010 to March 2011) emphasising the variability of the rainfall in the area and providing a wide range of conditions measured.

The sap flow of an evergreen, overstory Syzygium cordatum and a semi-deciduous, understory Shirakiopsis elliptica were measured in the peat swamp forest using the heat ratio method. The Syzygium cordatum water use was not highly seasonal and the daily maximum water use ranged from approximately 30 L d−1 in winter to 45 L d−1 in summer whereas the \textit{Shirakiopsis elliptica} water use was more seasonal at 2 L d−1 in winter and 12 L d−1 in summer. The water use of the Syzygium cordatum was not influenced by seasonal rainfall variations and was actually higher in the drier summer (October 2009 to March 2010). Three trees of different heights were monitored in the same way in the dune forest and the water use found to be highly seasonal. Over the entire measurement period, the water use was highest for an emergent Mimusops caffra (5 to 45 L d−1), whereas the water use of the Eugenia natalitia (2 to 28 L d−1) and Drypetes natalensis (1 to 4 L d−1) was lower. At the dune forest, the water use was highest in the wetter summer due to the reliance of the trees on rainfall to recharge the soil water. A split-line regression showed that on average, soil water limited tree water use 64% of the time over the measurement period at the dune forest. For modelling tree water use at the dune forest, it was concluded that a two-stage model, taking soil water content into account (from multiple sampling points), would be necessary.