A comparative assessment of the quantity and sources of water used by alien invasive prosopis spp and indigenous Acacia karroo in the Northern Cape Province
Invasive alien plants (IAPs) are often reported to use more water than indigenous plants. Inaddition, IAPs have an ability to adapt to harsh environmental conditions and they tend to spread at rapid rates, thereby threatening the country’s water resources, agricultural land, and biodiversity. Much of South Africa is expected to get drier in future due to climate change and the new climatic conditions are also predicted to accelerate the rate at which alien plants will spread. Approximately 10 million hectares are currently estimated to have been invaded by alien plants in South Africa, with an estimated average annual rate of spread of more than 5%. The first objective of this study was to compare the water use by deep rooted tree species which include invasive alien Prosopis (sp) trees and the co-occurring indigenous A. karroo. These trees are growing in a flood plain of a groundwater dependent catchment in the Northern Cape Province. Both species are dependent on groundwater and thus compete with local communities for this resource. The second objective was to determine the sources of water that the trees were using in order to understand the impacts of each species on groundwater resources. Transpiration was measured using the heat ratio method of the heat pulse velocity sap flow technique while the volumetric soil water content was monitored at several depths down the soil profile using automated capacitance soil water content probes. Weather data was collected using an automatic weather station. Stable isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen from plant, soil and groundwater samples were analysed to determine the sources of water used by the trees. Average tree density was approximately 613 stems per hectare for Prosopis compared to about 100 stems per hectare for A. karroo. Comparative measurements of water use shows that the annual stand level transpiration from Prosopis invasions was approximately 353 mm/year while that from A. karroo was only about 137 mm/year. Differences in stand transpiration were a result of the higher plant density for Prosopis than A. karroo. There were no significant differences in the transpiration rates of the two species for trees with a similar transpiring leaf area. Application of a two compartment linear mixing model for the oxygen isotope ratio during the peak transpiration period in summer showedthat Prosopis derived 23% of its water from the unsaturated zone and 77% from the saturated zone. A. karroo on the other hand derived 53% of its water from the unsaturated zone and47% from the saturated zone. Diurnal fluctuations in groundwater levels were strongly related to the transpiration dynamics of both species. This supports the observation that these deep rooted trees have substantial impacts on groundwater at the study site. Root sap flow patterns of Prosopis showed evidence of hydraulic redistribution wherein the groundwater abstracted by the tap roots was deposited in the shallow soil layers by lateral roots. However, the root sap flow patterns of A. karroo growing adjacent to the Prosopis did not show this phenomenon.