Thom, J.K., Livesley, S.J., Fletcher, T.D., Farrell, C., Arndt, S.K., Konarska, J. and Szota, C., 2022. Selecting tree species with high transpiration and drought avoidance to optimise runoff reduction in passive irrigation systems. Science of The Total Environment, 812, p.151466.
Rainfall in cities can generate large volumes of stormwater runoff which degrades receiving waterways. Irrigating trees with runoff (passive irrigation) has the potential to increase transpiration and contribute to stormwater management by reducing runoff received by downstream waterways, but the stochastic nature of rainfall may expose trees with high transpiration to drought stress. We hypothesized that for success in passive irrigation systems, tree species should exhibit i) high maximum transpiration rates under well-watered conditions, ii) drought avoidance between rainfall events, and iii) high recovery of transpiration with rainfall following a drought. We assessed 13 commonly planted urban tree species in Melbourne, Australia against three metrics representing these behaviours (crop factor, hydroscape area, and transpiration recovery, respectively) in a glasshouse experiment. To aid species selection, we also investigated the relationships between these three metrics and commonly measured plant traits, including leaf turgor loss point, wood density, and sapwood to leaf area ratio (Huber value). Only one species (Tristaniopsis laurina) exhibited a combination of high crop factor (>1.1 mm mm−1 d−1 ) indicating high transpiration, small hydroscape area (<3 MPa2 ) indicating drought avoidance, and high transpiration recovery (>85%) following water deficit. Hence, of the species measured, it had the greatest potential to reduce runoff from passive irrigation systems while avoiding drought stress. Nevertheless, several other species showed moderate transpiration, hydroscape areas and transpiration recovery, indicating a balanced strategy likely suitable for passive irrigation systems. Huber values were negatively related to crop factor and transpiration recovery and may therefore be a useful tool to aid species selection. We propose that selecting tree species with high transpiration rates that can avoid drought and recover well could greatly reduce stormwater runoff, while supporting broader environmental benefits such as urban cooling in cities.