16 Jun 2022
16 Jun 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

Is the reputation of Eucalyptus plantations for using more water than Pinus plantations justified?

Don A. White1,2,3, Shiqi Ren1, Daniel S. Mendham4, Francisco Balocchi-Contreras5,6, Richard P. Silberstein3,7,8, Dean Meason9, Andrés Iroumé10, and Pablo Ramirez de Arellano5 Don A. White et al.
  • 1Guangxi Forestry Research Institute, 23 Yongwu Road, Nanning, China
  • 2Whitegum Forest and Natural Resources, PO Box 3269, Midland, WA 6056, Australia
  • 3Centre for Ecosystem Management, School of Science, Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, WA 6027, Australia
  • 4CSIRO Land and Water, 15 College Road, Sandy Bay, Tas. 7005
  • 5Bioforest SA, Camino a Coronel km 15, Coronel, Chile, 413000
  • 6Water resources and energy for agriculture PhD program, Water Resources department, Universidad de Concepción, Chillán 3812120, Chile
  • 7Hydrological and Environmental Scientific Solutions, PO Box 237, West Perth, WA 6872, Australia
  • 8Agriculture and Environment, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia
  • 9Scion, Tītokorangi Drive, Private Bag 3020, Rotorua 3046, New Zealand
  • 10Universidad Austral de Chile, Facultad de Ciencias Forestales y Recursos Naturales, Institute of Conservation, Biodiversity and Territory, Valdivia, Chile

Abstract. The effect of Eucalyptus plantations on water balance is thought to be more severe than for commercial alternatives such as Pinus species. Although this perception is firmly entrenched, even in the scientific community, only four direct comparisons of the effect on the water balance of a Eucalyptus species and a commercial alternative have been published. One of these, from South Africa, showed that Eucalyptus grandis caused a larger and more rapid reduction in streamflow than Pinus patula. The other three, one in South Australia and two in Chile, did not find any significant difference between the annual evapotranspiration of E. globulus and P. radiata after canopy closure.

While direct comparisons are few, there are at least 57 published estimates of annual evapotranspiration of either a Eucalyptus or Pinus species. This paper presents a meta-analysis of these published data. Zhang et al. (2004) fitted a relationship between the crop factor and the climate wetness index to published data from catchment studies and proposed this approach for comparing land uses. We fitted the same model to the published data for Eucalyptus and Pinus and found that the single parameter of this model did not differ significantly between the two genera (p=0.48). This implies that for a given climate wetness index the two genera have similar annual water use. The residuals compared to this model were significantly correlated with soil depth for Eucalyptus, but this was not the case for Pinus. For Eucalyptus the model overestimates the crop factor on deep soils and underestimates the crop factor on shallow soils.

Don A. White et al.

Status: open (until 11 Aug 2022)

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Don A. White et al.

Don A. White et al.


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Short summary
Of all planting options for wood production and carbon storage, Eucalyptus species provoke the greatest concern about their effect on water resources. We compared Eucalyptus and Pinus species (the two most widely planted genera) by fitting a simple model to published estimates of annual water use. There was no significant difference between the two genera. This has important implications for the global debate Eucalyptus and an option for carbon forests.