A pinboard by
Morgane Merlin

PhD student, University of Alberta


Surface mining for belowground resources in the boreal forest results in severe disturbance of the forest ecosystem, requiring landscape reconstruction before forest cover can be reestablished. Often these landforms are constructed using overburden materials considered unsuitable for plant growth, which are capped with subsoil and top soil materials that can sustain a forest cover. These sites create unique opportunities to study the impact of rooting space on the ecology and physiology variables in plants. As forests and leaf area develops, water availability could become a limiting factor. In this study we link sap flow (water use and transport) and tree productivity with soil moisture availability, rooting space and climatic drivers. White spruce (Picea glauca) and trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides) were planted on a reclaimed slope in 1999 treated with two different soil capping depths placed over saline-sodic overburden material. Trees along the slope were equipped with heat ratio method sap flow sensors over the 2014 and 2015 growing seasons. Varying tree characteristics and growth were measured, as well as soil moisture availability and weather variables. Slope position and capping depths affected the trees’ wood volume and leaf area production in 2014 and 2015. Sap flow over the whole growing season showed close coupling with climatic variables for both species on both capping treatments and slope positions. Diurnal cycles of sap flow during dry-down and wetting-up periods provide a general and species-specific patterns of water uptake during the growing season and highlight potential consequences of reclamation practices on tree performance.


Forest water use in the initial stages of reclamation in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region

Abstract: Following large-scale surface oil sands mining, large tracts of the boreal forest in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region of Western Canada are legally required to be reclaimed. A greater understanding of how these novel ecosystems function and develop with regard to water use is crucial to aid in the development of regulatory practices and protocols based on information from ecosystem recovery. In this paper, a 12-year (2003–2014) eddy covariance measurement record of latent and sensible heat fluxes and gross ecosystem productivity of carbon dioxide is analysed to evaluate how a reclaimed boreal forest has developed during its initial growth period. The study site is a reclaimed oil sands saline-sodic clay shale overburden deposit that was topped with 100 cm of glacial till and 20 cm of peat mineral mix. The site was seeded with barley (Hordeum spp.) in 2001 to reduce erosion of the soil cover whereas aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) and spruce (Picea glauca [Moench] Voss) boreal tree species were planted in 2004. Changes in structure and function corresponded to the transition of dominant vegetation cover from early successional species to forest. Leaf area index increased from a growing season peak of 0.9 in 2003 to 4.0 in 2014 and was associated with an increased growing season gross ecosystem productivity (4.9 to 8.9 g C m−2 day−1), an increased evapotranspiration (1.6 to 3.4 mm day−1), and a decreased partitioning of energy to sensible heat (Bowen's ratio decreased from 1.1 to 0.4). Although canopy conductance increased throughout the 12 years, the shift from early successional species to trees with more conservative water use resulted in a decrease in conductance normalized by leaf area. Water use efficiency has increased slightly since 2008 with an average of 10.0 g CO2 kg−1 H2O for the last 6 years. No prolonged dry periods were observed during the study period. The functioning of this novel ecosystem is evolving as expected on the basis of the trends observed for other natural and disturbed boreal forests.

Pub.: 21 Jun '17, Pinned: 23 Aug '17

Root Distributions of Planted Boreal Mixedwood Species on Reclaimed Saline–Sodic Overburden

Abstract: Alberta’s oil sands are located in the boreal forest where surface mining requires reconstruction of these landscapes using waste saline and sodic overburden (SSOB) piles. The impact of these SSOB materials, however, on root development of planted boreal species is unknown. The objective of this study was to examine the effect of SSOB material on the root distributions of planted boreal species. Root distributions for planted mixedwood stands were measured using soil cores and compared with soil physical and chemical properties on three reclaimed sites. Soil pH ranged from 6.1 to 7.5 across all three reclaimed sites. Sodium adsorption ratio ranged from <30 in the SSOB at the youngest site to <4 at the oldest site while soil electrical conductivity ranged from <12 and <4 dS m−1 in the SSOB at the youngest and oldest site, respectively. Root length distributions were concentrated in the upper 30 cm of the soil profile and ranged from 0.96 to 7.99 cm cm−3. The roots were observed in the SSOB and accounted for 1.3% to 2.2% of the total root length in the profile. The root length density was also negatively correlated with Na and EC at all sites. The root distributions on these young reclaimed sites were similar to those from undisturbed boreal forest stands overlying saline soils, suggesting that root distributions on these reclaimed sites appear to be unaffected by the SSOB; however, further monitoring will be required as the stand matures to determine future impacts of the SSOB on forest productivity.

Pub.: 11 Jun '11, Pinned: 23 Aug '17

Temperate tree species show identical response in tree water deficit but different sensitivities in sap flow to summer soil drying.

Abstract: Temperate forests are expected to be particularly vulnerable to drought and soil drying because they are not adapted to such conditions and perform best in mesic environments. Here we ask (i) how sensitively four common temperate tree species (Fagus sylvatica, Picea abies, Acer pseudoplatanus and Fraxinus excelsior) respond in their water relations to summer soil drying and seek to determine (ii) if species-specific responses to summer soil drying are related to the onset of declining water status across the four species. Throughout 2012 and 2013 we determined tree water deficit (TWD) as a proxy for tree water status from recorded stem radius changes and monitored sap flow rates with sensors on 16 mature trees studied in the field at Lägeren, Switzerland. All tree species responded equally in their relative maximum TWD to the onset of declining soil moisture. This implies that the water supply of all tree species was affected by declining soil moisture and that none of the four species was able to fully maintain its water status, e.g., by access to alternative water sources in the soil. In contrast we found strong and highly species-specific responses of sap flow to declining soil moisture with the strongest decline in P. abies (92%), followed by F. sylvatica (53%) and A. pseudoplatanus (48%). F. excelsior did not significantly reduce sap flow. We hypothesize the species-specific responses in sap flow to declining soil moisture that occur despite a simultaneous increase in relative TWD in all species reflect how fast these species approach critical levels of their water status, which is most likely influenced by species-specific traits determining the hydraulic properties of the species tree.

Pub.: 10 Sep '16, Pinned: 23 Aug '17

Sap flow characteristics and their response to environmental variables in a desert riparian forest along lower Heihe River Basin, Northwest China.

Abstract: Hysteresis, related to tree sap flow and associated environmental variables, plays a critical ecological role in the comprehensive understanding of forest water use dynamics. Nevertheless, only limited researches related to this unique ecological phenomenon have been conducted to date in desert riparian forests under extreme arid regions. Populus euphratica Oliv sap flow velocity (VS) was measured during the 2012 growing season using the heat ratio method, at the same time as environmental variables, such as photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), vapor pressure deficit (VPD), and leaf water potential. We found clockwise patterns of hysteresis between VS and VPD but anticlockwise patterns between VS and PAR. Pronounced hysteretic VS lag time, a function of PAR and VPD, was approximately 1.0~1.5 and -0.5 h, respectively. Hysteresis was primarily caused by the biophysical declining in canopy conductance. Sigmoid response of VS to synthetic meteorological variables was enhanced by approximately 56 % after hysteresis calibration to sunny days. Consequently, hysteresis can be seen as a protection mechanism for plants to avoid the overlapping of peak VS and environmental variables. Furthermore, the consistent presence of hysteresis suggested that estimating of plant water use in large temporal and spatial models may require certain provisions to different VS responses to variables between morning and afternoon and between seasons.

Pub.: 15 Sep '16, Pinned: 23 Aug '17

Water relations in tree physiology: where to from here?

Abstract: We look back over 50 years of research into the water relations of trees, with the objective of assessing the maturity of the topic in terms of the idea of a paradigm, put forward by Kuhn in 1962. Our brief review indicates that the physical processes underlying the calculation of transpiration are well understood and accepted, and knowledge of those processes can be applied if information about the leaf area of trees, and stomatal conductance, is available. Considerable progress has been made in understanding the factors governing stomatal responses to environment, with insights into how the hydraulic conducting system of trees determines the maximum aperture of stomata. Knowledge about the maximum stomatal conductance values likely to be reached by different species, and recognition that stomatal responses to increasing atmospheric vapor pressure deficits are in fact responses to water loss from leaves, provides the basis for linking these responses to information about hydraulic conductance through soil-root-stem-branch systems. Improved understanding in these areas is being incorporated into modern models of stomatal conductance and responses to environmental conditions. There have been significant advances in understanding hydraulic pathways, including cavitation and its implications. A few studies suggest that the major resistances to water flux within trees are not in the stem but in the branches. This insight may have implications for productivity: it may be advantageous to select trees with the genetic propensity to produce short branches in stands with open canopies. Studies on the storage of water in stems have provided improved understanding of fluxes from sapwood at different levels. Water stored in the stems of large trees may provide up to 20-30% daily sap flow, but this water is likely to be replaced by inflows at night. In dry conditions transpiration by large trees may be maintained from stored water for up to a week, but flows from storage may be more important in refilling cavitated xylem elements and hence ensuring that the overall hydraulic conductivity of stems is not reduced. Hydraulic redistribution of water in the soil may make a contribution to facilitating root growth in dry soils and modifying resource availability. We conclude that the field of tree water relations is mature, in the sense that the concepts underlying models describing processes and system responses to change are well-tested and accepted and there are few, if any, serious anomalies emerging. Models are essentially formal statements about the way we think systems work. They are always subject to further testing, refinement and improvements. Gaps in knowledge appear within the framework of accepted concepts and mechanisms research is needed to fill those gaps. The models currently available can be used to scale estimates of transpiration from leaf to landscape levels and predict species responses to drought. The focus in tree water relations has shifted to examine the climatic thresholds at which drought, high temperatures and vapor pressure deficits cause mortality. Tree death may be caused by hydraulic collapse following irreversible cavitation or extremely low water potentials, but recent research indicates that the relative sensitivity of stomatal conductance and whole-plant hydraulic conductance plays a major role in determining plant responses to drought.

Pub.: 16 Dec '16, Pinned: 23 Aug '17