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Why the sagebrush grows : Ecologists explore arid plant survival ( Nov 04, 2013)

Titre : Why the sagebrush grows : Ecologists explore arid plant survival

Ecologists are another step closer to understanding a natural phenomenon that enables desert plants to access water and nutrients they desperately need – even in the driest circumstance ( Nov 04, 2013)

"We’ve long known plants reach deep below surface soil to take water up into their shoots and leaves, says John Stark, professor in USU’s Department of Biology and Ecology Center. "What we’re discovering is, through a process called hydraulic lift, plants also leak water into the bone-dry surface soil to release nutrients and stir microbial activity critical to the plants’ survival."

Stark, with colleagues Zoe Cardon, senior scientist with the Ecosystems Center of the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Mass., Patrick Herron of the University of Connecticut and Jed Rasmussen of USU, published findings from their hydraulic lift experiment with sagebrush, the first investigation of its kind, in the Nov. 4, 2013, online Early Edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The team’s research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.

USU ecologist Martyn Caldwell, emeritus professor in USU’s Department of Wildland Resources, pioneered studies of hydraulic lift in the 1980s and since then, Stark says, scientists have pondered consequences of the process for plant survival.

"Our field investigation, which we carried out in a remote area of mature sageland near Utah’s Bear Lake in 2006 and 2007, was a way of trying to learn more about this process," he says.

With a team of nearly a dozen student and volunteer field technicians, the team hauled a water tank, along with solar panels, equipment and a half mile of irrigation tubing, to set up test plots. The scientists developed a new, gas-based labeling technique to trace the flow of nitrogen through the soil and to the plants.

Source  : Utah State University

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