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Journal of Arid Land  2012, Vol. 4 Issue (3): 281-291    DOI: 10.3724/SP.J.1227.2012.00281
Research Articles     
Physiological responses of Populus euphratica Oliv. to groundwater table variations in the lower reaches of Heihe River, Northwest China
Yang ZHAO1, ChuanYan ZHAO1, ZhongLin XU2, YiYue LIU1, Yao WANG1, Chao WANG3, HuanHua PENG3, XiangLin ZHENG1
1 State Key Laboratory of Pastoral Agricultural Ecosystem, Institute of Arid Agroecology, School of Life Science, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou 730000, China;
2 MOE Key Laboratory of Oasis Ecology, College of Resource and Environmental Science, Xinjiang University, Urumqi 830002, China;
3 Key Laboratory of Western China’s Environment Systems MOE, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou 730000, China
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Abstract  Riparian vegetation in the lower reaches of Heihe River serves important ecological functions. However, the riparian ecosystems have been constantly deteriorating in the past 30 years simply due to water interception for oasis agricultural irrigation in the middle reaches of the river. This study pays a particular attention to Populus euphratica Oliv. forest because it is a dominant component of the riparian ecosystem in the lower reaches of Heihe River where the depth of groundwater table is the controlling factor in sustaining riparian ecosystems. To reveal leaf-related physiological responses of Populus euphratica Oliv. forest to groundwater table variations, we analyzed the relationships between the depth of groundwater table (DG) and three leaf-related parameters, i.e. leaf stomatal density (SD), specific leaf area (SLA), and stable carbon isotopic composition (δ13C). Our results show that the relationship between DG and leaf SD is a bi-mode one shaped by both salt stress and water stress. That is, salt stress appeared in shallow groundwater conditions and water stress happened in deep groundwater conditions, and the thin layer around 2.7 m of DG is a stress-free layer. Leaf SD fluctuated according to the DG variation, first decreased with increasing DG, then increased at depths ranging 2.7–3.7 m, and after a relatively stable plateau of SD at depths ranging 3.7–5.2 m, decreased again with increasing DG. Our results also show that SLA decreased exponentially with increasing DG and foliar δ13C values are also strongly dependent on DG, further demonstrating that these two parameters are sensitive indicators of water stress. The exponential curve suggests that SLA is more sensitive to DG when groundwater table is shallow and 3 m seems to be a threshold beyond which SLA becomes less sensitive to DG. Foliar δ13C becomes more sensitive when the groundwater table is deep and 7 m seems to be a threshold below which the δ13C signature becomes more sensitive to DG. These findings should be helpful in monitoring the growth and development of Populus euphratica Oliv. forests and also in providing protection measures (i.e. DG related) for Heihe River riparian forests.

Received: 16 October 2011      Published: 03 September 2012

National Natural Science Foundation of China (91025015, 30770387)

Corresponding Authors: ChuanYan ZHAO     E-mail:
Cite this article:

Yang ZHAO, ChuanYan ZHAO, ZhongLin XU, YiYue LIU, Yao WANG, Chao WANG, HuanHua PENG, XiangLin ZHENG. Physiological responses of Populus euphratica Oliv. to groundwater table variations in the lower reaches of Heihe River, Northwest China. Journal of Arid Land, 2012, 4(3): 281-291.

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