Characterizing the Fluxes and Age Distribution of Soil Water, Plant Water, and Deep Percolation in a Model Tropical Ecosystem

Jaivime Evaristo, Minseok Kim, Joost van Haren, Luke A. Pangle, Ciaran J. Harman, Peter A. Troch, Jeffrey J. McDonnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


Recent field observations indicate that in many forest ecosystems, plants use water that may be isotopically distinct from soil water that ultimately contributes to streamflow. Such an assertion has been met with varied reactions. Of the outstanding questions, we examine whether ecohydrological separation of water between trees and streams results from a separation in time, or in space. Here we present results from a 9-month drought and rewetting experiment at the 26,700-m3 mesocosm, Biosphere 2-Tropical Rainforest biome. We test the null hypothesis that transpiration and groundwater recharge water are sampled from the same soil volume without preference for old nor young water. After a 10-week drought, we added 66 mm of labeled rainfall with 152‰ δ2H distributed over four events, followed by background rainfall (−60‰ δ2H) distributed over 13 events. Our results show that mean transit times through groundwater recharge and plant transpiration were markedly different: groundwater recharge was 2–7 times faster (~9 days) than transpired water (range 17–62 days). The “age” of transpired water showed strong dependence on species and was linked to the difference between midday leaf water potential and soil matric potential. Moreover, our results show that trees used soil water (89% ±6) and not the “more mobile” (represented by “zero tension” seepage) water (11% ±6). The finding, which rejects our null hypothesis, is novel in that this partitioning is established based on soil water residence times. Our study quantifies mean transit times for transpiration and seepage flows under dynamic conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3307-3327
Number of pages21
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • critical zone
  • ecohydrological separation
  • stable isotopes
  • tracer
  • transit times
  • two water worlds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


Dive into the research topics of 'Characterizing the Fluxes and Age Distribution of Soil Water, Plant Water, and Deep Percolation in a Model Tropical Ecosystem'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this