Water status of soil and vegetation in a shortgrass steppe

O. E. Sala, W. K. Lauenroth, W. J. Parton, M. J. Trlica

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations


In an attempt to describe some major relationships between soil and plant compartments in a shortgrass steppe, the process of water loss from the system and plant water relations throughout a drying cycle were studied. The water supply was manipulated and some soil and plant variables monitored throughout a drying cycle. Leaf conductance and leaf water potential of blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) were measured periodically at predawn and noon. Soil water content and water potential of different layers were also monitored. Three different periods were distinguished in the water loss process throughout a drying cycle. These distinctions were made taking into account the relative contribution of different soil layers. Leaf conductance and water potential at noon slowly declined throughout the first 50 days of plant growth. After that, they rapidly decreased, reaching values of 0.29 mm s-1 and-5.0 MPa, respectively. The predawn leaf water potential remained unchanged around-0.5 MPa during the first 45 days, then rapidly decreased. This occurred when soil water of the wettest soil layer was near depletion. Predawn leaf water potentials were highly correlated with water potentials of the wettest layer. Leaf conductance and water potential at noon were correlated with effective soil water potential (soil water potential weighted by the root distribution in the profile). We concluded that root surface area limited the water flow through an important part of the day in this semiarid ecosystem. Axial root resistance did not appear important in determining the equilibrium status between leaves and the wettest soil layer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)327-331
Number of pages5
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 1981
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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