Water-use dynamics of an alien-invaded riparian forest within the summer rainfall zone of South Africa.
In South Africa the invasion of riparian forests by alien trees has the potential to affect the country's limited water resources. Tree water-use measurements have therefore become an important component of recent hydrological studies. It is difficult for South African government initiatives, such as the Working for Water (WfW) alien clearing programme, to justify alien tree removal and implement rehabilitation unless hydrological benefits are known. The objective of this study was to investigate the water use (transpiration rates) of a selection of introduced and indigenous tree species and quantify the hydrological benefit that could be achieved through a suitable rehabilitation programme. Consequently water use within a riparian forest in the upper Mgeni catchment of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa was monitored over a 2-year period. The site consisted of an indigenous stand of eastern mistbelt forest that had been invaded by Acacia mearnsii, Eucalyptus nitens and Solanum mauritianum. The heat ratio method of the heat pulse velocity (HPV) sap flow technique and the stem steady state (SSS) techniques were used to measure the sap flow of a selection of indigenous and introduced species. The indigenous trees at New Forest, South Africa, showed clear seasonal trends in the daily sap flow rates varying from 8 to 25 L day-1 in summer (sap flow being directly proportional to tree size). In the winter periods this was reduced to between 3 and 6 L day-1 when limited energy flux was available to drive the transpiration process. The water use in the A. mearnsii and E. grandis trees showed a slight seasonal trend, with a high flow during the winter months in contrast to the indigenous species. The water use in the understorey indicated that multi-stemmed species used up to 12 L day-1. Small alien trees (<30 mm) A. mearnsii and S. mauritianum used up to 4 L day-1 each. The total accumulated sap flow per year for the three individual A. mearnsii and E. grandis trees was 6548 and 7405 L a-1 respectively. In contrast, the indigenous species averaged 2934 L a-1, clearly demonstrating the higher water use of the introduced species. After spatial upscaling, it was concluded that, at the current state of invasion (21% of the stand being alien species), the stand used 40% more water per unit area than if the stand were in a pristine state. If the stand were to be heavily invaded at the same stem density of the indigenous forest, a 100% increase in water use would occur over an average rainfall year.