Seasonal variation in the groundwater dependency of two dominant woody species in a desert region of Central Asia

  • Xue Wu
  • Xin-Jun Zheng
  • Xin-Wei Yin
  • Yue-Meng Yue
  • Ran Liu
  • Gui-Qing Xu
  • Yan LiEmail author
Regular Article



Groundwater is an important water source for plants in desert regions and greatly affects the performance and survival of desert plants. Moreover, the effects of groundwater variations on desert plants are not completely understood. This study aims to investigate the groundwater dependency of two dominant woody species (Haloxylon ammodendron and H. persicum) in the Gurbantunggut Desert of Central Asia, and evaluate their water use and physiological responses under a decline in groundwater depth.


Oxygen stable isotopes of soil water, groundwater and xylem water as well as the IsoSource model were used to determine seasonal variations in the water sources of the two studied species along a groundwater depth gradient. In addition, the plant water potential and stomatal conductance were measured to determine the physiological performance.


(1) Although both species extracted groundwater, H. ammodendron was much more groundwater dependent; (2) the two species exhibited significant seasonal variations in their degree of groundwater dependency, which was relatively lower in the wet season, and higher during the dry period; and (3) when the groundwater availability declined, both species reduced their groundwater use, although only H. ammodendron exhibited a significantly negative physiological response.


This study demonstrated that plants with different water sources respond differently to the decline of groundwater depth and the effects of groundwater drawdowns are determined by the groundwater dependency of desert plants. A better understanding of desert plant responses to water availability variations is crucial for modeling, predicting and managing desert ecosystems in the context of global change.


Stable isotope Water uptake Groundwater depth Physiological response 



Predawn water potential


Midday water potential


Soil water potential


Plant water potental


Mass water content


Volumetric water content


Oxygen isotopic composition of plant xylem water


Oxygen isotopic composition of soil water


Oxygen isotopic composition of precipitation


Oxygen isotopic composition of groundwater



This work was financially supported by the Strategic Priority Research Program of Chinese Academy of Sciences (No. XDA2006030102), Key Research Project of Frontier Sciences, CAS (No. QYZDJ-SSW-DQC014) and the National Natural Sciences Foundation of China (No. 41730638 and No. 41771121). We thank all of the staff at the Fukang Station of Desert Ecology for their excellent assistance. We especially thank to Yan-Yan Zhang, Yan Tian, De-Kun Meng for their help in the laboratory analysis and Hai Zhu, Yong-Bao Chen for their help in data acquisition.

Supplementary material

11104_2019_4251_MOESM1_ESM.docx (39 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 39 kb)


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Desert and Oasis Ecology, Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and GeographyChinese Academy of SciencesUrumqiChina
  2. 2.Fukang Station of Desert EcologyChinese Academy of SciencesFukangChina
  3. 3.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

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