Isotopic analysis of water sources of mountainous plant uptake in a karst plateau of southwest China

Li Rong, Xi Chen, Xunhong Chen, Shijie Wang, Xuelian Du

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Ecosystem in the karst region of southwest China is very fragile due to a very limited amount of water storage for plant uptake in the thin and rocky soils underlain by rock fractures. Plants in these karst regions are thought to take water from the soils and shallow fractured rock zone (subcutaneous zone) as well. However, the role of subcutaneous water in maintaining karst vegetation remains unclear, and proportions of the water sources for plant uptake in different environment conditions are unknown. In this study, five typical species of plants at two sites were selected in a karst plateau of Qingzhen, central Guizhou Province of China. Proportions of the possible water sources contributed for the plant uptake from two soil layers and subcutaneous zone were determined on the basis of δD and δ18O values of plant stem water, soil water and subcutaneous water. The analysis reveals that most plants take water from the soil layers and the subcutaneous zone as well, but proportions of these water contributions for plant uptake vary seasonally and depend on site-specific conditions and plant species. Plant uptake of the subcutaneous water for all species averages less than 30% of the total monthly amount in June and September, compared with more than 60% in dry December. Plants tend to take a larger proportion of water from the upper soil layer at the bush site than at the forest site in June and September (63 vs 28% in July; 66 vs 54% in September for all species in average). In December, however, 98% of water is taken from the subcutaneous zone at the bush site which is much greater than 68% at the forest site. Compared to deciduous arbor, evergreen shrub takes a greater proportion of subcutaneous water in the December drought.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3666-3675
Number of pages10
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number23
StatePublished - Nov 15 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Mountainous plant
  • Soil water
  • Stable isotopes
  • Subcutaneous water

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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