Hydraulic redistribution (HR) by plant roots can increase moisture content in the dry, mostly upper, parts of the soil. HR helps maintain the viability of fine roots, root hydraulic conductivity, microbial activity and facilitate nutrient uptake. Plants can supply water to other surrounding plants by HR under drought conditions. In oil sands reclamation areas in Northeastern Alberta, Canada, reconstructed soils commonly suffer from the problems of drought, high pH, salinity, and compaction, which often impact revegetation success. In this study, we investigated the HR potential of two herbaceous plants that are frequently present in oil sands reclamation sites: slender wheatgrass (Elymus trachycaulus
Link Malte) and yellow sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis
L.), using a vertically split-root growth setup and treatments with deuterium-enriched water. Our objective was to test the potential benefits of HR on drought responses of seedlings of the commonly used plant species for oil sand reclamation, balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera
L.), when these plants were grown together under controlled environment conditions. We found that both wheatgrass and yellow sweet clover could redistribute water in the upward and downward directions. However, the amount of water released by the roots was not sufficient to alleviate the effects of drought stress on the associated balsam poplar seedlings. Longer-term field studies should be carried out in order to examine, under different environmental conditions, the potential benefits of HR in these herbaceous plants to the establishment and growth of other plant species that are used for land reclamation.
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