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Exotic timber plantations found to use more than twice the water of native forests
Date:9/15/2009

eucalyptus and tropical ash used three and nine times more water, respectively, than individual ohia trees. Since each of these forests is dominated by these three species, the team was able to scale up their results to predict how much water a whole section of forest uses. Even when including other native plants that use water quickly, such as tree ferns, the tropical ash forests still used water at a rate of 1,800 kilograms of water per square meter per day, more than 2.5 times that of the other forests. The researchers found, however, that the non-native eucalyptus plantation used similar amounts of water as native forest. This is because water use depends on the specific tree species, stand organization and age, and location and climate, says Sack.

Hawaii's non-native tree plantations were originally intended for timber production and to conserve the islands' top soil. In the early part of the 20th century, ranches and plantations producing sugar cane and pineapple covered much of Hawaii's agricultural areas. But years of these practices led to increased soil erosion, and fast-growing non-native trees were planted to hold the soil in place and to preserve water by preventing runoff. At the time, however, the importance of biodiversity and the dangers of exotic species weren't as clear as they are today.

Especially with climate change rapidly changing many ecosystems, Sack says, it's vital that land management plans recognize and integrate the fact that water use by plants can affect the clean water supply.

"When making decisions to restore a native forest or preserve or establish a plantation, we need to do a more detailed valuation that includes the cost of water they're using," he says. "There are a lot of reforestation projects underway to take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, where people are prioritizing fast-growing trees. But we shouldn't let alien plants sweep over native forests. Our findings make a clear case that we
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Contact: Christine Buckley
christine@esa.org
202-833-8773
Ecological Society of America
Source:Eurekalert  

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