Articles | Volume 21, issue 3
Research article
09 Mar 2017
Research article |  | 09 Mar 2017

Comparisons of stemflow and its bio-/abiotic influential factors between two xerophytic shrub species

Chuan Yuan, Guangyao Gao, and Bojie Fu

Abstract. Stemflow transports nutrient-enriched precipitation to the rhizosphere and functions as an efficient terrestrial flux in water-stressed ecosystems. However, its ecological significance has generally been underestimated because it is relatively limited in amount, and the biotic mechanisms that affect it have not been thoroughly studied at the leaf scale. This study was conducted during the 2014 and 2015 rainy seasons at the northern Loess Plateau of China. We measured the branch stemflow volume (SFb), shrub stemflow equivalent water depth (SFd), stemflow percentage of incident precipitation (SF %), stemflow productivity (SFP), funnelling ratio (FR), the meteorological characteristics and the plant traits of branches and leaves of C. korshinskii and S. psammophila. This study evaluated stemflow efficiency for the first time with the combined results of SFP and FR, and sought to determine the inter- and intra-specific differences of stemflow yield and efficiency between the two species, as well as the specific bio-/abiotic mechanisms that affected stemflow. The results indicated that C. korshinskii had a greater stemflow yield and efficiency at all precipitation levels than that of S. psammophila. The largest inter-specific difference generally occurred at the 5–10 mm branches during rains of  ≤  2 mm. Precipitation amount was the most influential meteorological characteristic that affected stemflow yield and efficiency in these two endemic shrub species. Branch angle was the most influential plant trait on FR. For SFb, stem biomass and leaf biomass were the most influential plant traits for C. korshinskii and S. psammophila, respectively. For SFP of these two shrub species, leaf traits (the individual leaf area) and branch traits (branch size and biomass allocation pattern) had a great influence during lighter rains  ≤  10 mm and heavier rains  >  15 mm, respectively. The lower precipitation threshold to start stemflow allowed C. korshinskii (0.9 mm vs. 2.1 mm for S. psammophila) to employ more rains to harvest water via stemflow. The beneficial leaf traits (e.g., leaf shape, arrangement, area, amount) might partly explain the greater stemflow production of C. korshinskii. Comparison of SFb between the foliated and manually defoliated shrubs during the 2015 rainy season indicated that the newly exposed branch surface at the defoliated period and the resulting rainfall intercepting effects might be an important mechanism affecting stemflow in the dormant season.

Short summary
We computed stemflow yield and efficiency, and analyzed the influential mechanism at smaller scales of leaf and raindrop. We found that precipitation was the most influential meteorological feature on stemflow. The smaller threshold precipitation to start stemflow and the more beneficial leaf traits might partly explain the larger and more efficient stemflow production. At defoliated period, the newly exposed stems replaced leaves to intercept raindrops and might really matter in stemflow yield.