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Is the reputation of Eucalyptus plantations for using more water than Pinus plantations justified?


The effect of Eucalyptus plantations on water balance is thought to be more severe than for commercial alternatives such as Pinus species. Although this perception is firmly entrenched, even in the scientific community, only four direct comparisons of the effect on the water balance of a Eucalyptus species and a commercial alternative have been published. One of these, from South Africa, showed that Eucalyptus grandis caused a larger and more rapid reduction in streamflow than Pinus patula. The other three, one in South Australia and two in Chile, did not find any significant difference between the annual evapotranspiration of E. globulus and P. radiata after canopy closure.

While direct comparisons are few, there are at least 57 published estimates of annual evapotranspiration of either the Eucalyptus or Pinus species. This paper presents a meta-analysis of these published data. Zhang et al. (2004) fitted a relationship between the vegetation evaporation efficiency and the climate wetness index to published data from catchment studies and proposed this approach for comparing land uses. We fitted this model to the published data for Eucalyptus and Pinus and found that the single parameter of this model did not differ significantly between the two genera (p=0.48). This was also the case for all parameters of an exponential relationship between evapotranspiration and rainfall (p=0.589) and a linear relationship between the vegetation evaporation index and rainfall (p=0.155).

These results provide strong evidence that, for a given climate wetness index, the two genera have similar annual water use. The residuals compared to the model of Zhang et al. (2004) were significantly correlated with soil depth for Eucalyptus, but this was not the case for Pinus. For Eucalyptus, the model overestimates the vegetation evaporation efficiency on deep soils and underestimates the vegetation evaporation efficiency on shallow soils.

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