Deciphering Ecohydrological Interactions Using Stable Isotopes

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 5:40 PM
Jeffrey McDonnell1, Jaivime A Evaristo1 and Scott Jasechko2, (1)University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada, (2)University of New Mexico Main Campus, Albuquerque, NM, United States
Deciphering the nature of ecohydrological interconnections and scaling that knowledge gained at single points to watersheds is challenging. One tool that that has proved useful in this regard is stable isotope tracing. Single isotope studies have been used recently to quantify landuse change effects on streamflow source apportionment and ecological effects on transit time distributions of water at the catchment scale. However, most work to date has assumed that plant transpiration, groundwater recharge and streamflow are all sourced or mediated by the same well mixed reservoir—the soil. Recent work in Oregon and Mexico has shown evidence of ecohydrological separation, whereby different subsurface compartmentalized pools of water supply either plant transpiration fluxes or the combined fluxes of groundwater recharge and streamflow. However, these findings have not yet been widely tested. Here we assemble the first dual isotope database for δ2H and δ18O extracted from 47 globally-distributed stable isotopic datasets. We use these data to test the ecohydrological separation hypothesis. We combine this dual isotope dataset with global precipitation, streamwater, groundwater and soil water datasets. Our results show that precipitation, streamwater and groundwater from the 47 sites plot approximately along the δ2H/δ18O slope of eight, suggesting that local precipitation inputs supply streamwater and groundwater. Soil waters extracted from the 47 studies plot below the regression of local streamwater and groundwater with a slope of 6.6±0.05 ‰. Local plant xylem waters from our matched dataset plot on a slope 6.6±0.07 ‰ consistent with local soil waters. The tight association of soil water slopes and not that of local groundwater or streamflow suggests that plants use soil water that does not itself contribute to groundwater recharge or stream water. This ubiquity of subsurface water compartmentalization is surprising and has important implications for how we conceptualize ecohydrological interactions in changing environments.