Journal Article

Measuring stem water content in four deciduous hardwoods with a time-domain reflectometer

Stan D. Wullschleger, Paul J. Hanson and Donald E. Todd

in Tree Physiology

Volume 16, issue 10, pages 809-815
Published in print October 1996 | ISSN: 0829-318X
e-ISSN: 1758-4469 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/treephys/16.10.809
Measuring stem water content in four deciduous hardwoods with a time-domain reflectometer

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New technologies in time-domain reflectometry offer a reliable means of measuring soil water content. Whether these same technologies can be used or adapted to estimate the water content of other porous media, such as the woody tissue of forest trees, has not been thoroughly addressed. Therefore, curves relating the apparent dielectric constant (Ka) to volumetric water content (g cm−3) were constructed for large-diameter stems of red maple (Acer rubrum L.), white oak (Quercus alba L.), chestnut oak (Q. prinus L.), and black gum (Nyssa sylvatica Marsh.). This information was combined with previously published data and a proposed “universal” calibration equation for wood was derived. Stainless-steel rods (15-cm wave guides) were inserted into 160 trees (30 to 49 per species) growing in an upland oak–hickory forest and stem water contents estimated monthly during 1994 and 1995 with a time-domain reflectometer (TDR). Volumetric water contents in April ranged from 0.28 g cm−3 for red maple to 0.43 g cm−3 for black gum, with no evidence that water content changed as a function of stem diameter. Stem water contents estimated during 1994 (a wet year) increased from May to July, reached a maximum in midsummer (0.41 to 0.50 g cm−3), and then decreased in November. During 1995 (a dry year), stem water contents for red maple and black gum (two diffuse-porous species) decreased from May to August, reached a minimum in September (0.29 to 0.37 g cm−3), slightly increased in October and November, and then decreased in December. A different trend was observed during 1995 for white oak and chestnut oak (two ring-porous species), with water contents remaining fairly stable from May to August, but decreasing abruptly in September and again in December. Stem water contents estimated with a TDR broadly agreed with gravimetric analyses of excised stem segments and increment cores, although there was evidence that overestimation of water content was possible with TDR as a result of wounding following wave guide installation. Nonetheless our results hold promise for the application of TDR to the study of stem water content and to the study of whole-plant water storage.

Keywords: Acer rubrum; apparent dielectric constant; capacitance; Nyssa sylvatica; Quercus alba; Quercus prunus; stem water storage; TDR

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Subjects: Plant Sciences and Forestry

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