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An assessment of the vulnerability of native phreatophytes to replacement by invasive species in a mid-continent riparian setting

by Shea, J., Bauer, J., Keller, J., Butler, J.J., Jr., Kluitenberg, G.J., Whittemore, D.O., Loheide, S.P., II, and Jin, W.
Eos Trans. AGU, v. 86, no. 52, Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract B23A-1037, 2005.


In many areas of the Great Plains region of the United States, non-Native phreatophytes, particularly the salt cedar (Tamarix spp.) and the Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia L.), have become the dominant riparian-zone vegetation. The factors that contribute to the establishment of invasive species are under investigation at the Larned Research Site (LRS), located in the riparian corridor of the Arkansas River in south-central Kansas. The riparian zone at the LRS consists of native vegetation; the major phreatophytes at the site are the cottonwood (Populus deltoids), willow (Salix spp.), and mulberry (Morus spp.). The LRS has been the focus of extensive research on stream-aquifer interactions, so considerable data have been collected on the shallow groundwater flow system underlying the area. On-site instrumentation includes 18 wells equipped for continuous water-level monitoring, eight neutron-probe access tubes for observation of soil moisture, and a weather station. Inventories of all trees larger than 0.08 m in diameter at breast height (1266 trunks) were conducted in a portion of the LRS in the summers of 2002 and 2005, and sapflow data were collected in the summers of 2003 and 2004. Water-level data from mid-August 2002 to the present show diurnal fluctuations during the growing season superimposed on a general water-level decline. These diurnal fluctuations are a diagnostic indicator of phreatophyte activity, while the declining water levels can be attributed to regional irrigation pumping during periods of little recharge from streamflow. Estimates of groundwater consumption by phreatophytes, obtained using the approach of White (1932), show a year-to-year decrease in water use, associated with a falling water table; however, potential evapotranspiration values calculated from meteorological data did not decrease significantly. Groundwater consumption estimates using the White method are consistent with sapflow and soil-moisture data. In addition, comparison of the tree inventories performed in the summers of 2002 and 2005 reveal a 20-25% mortality rate over the study period, with an additional 20% of trees under severe water stress. The native phreatophytes appear to be having difficulty keeping pace with the falling water table, leading to severe stress and a high rate of mortality. At present, the canopy is still sufficiently dense to prevent encroachment by salt cedar and Russian olive. However, if the present rate of mortality continues, non-Native phreatophytes will likely exploit open areas created by tree die-off, leading to large changes in the riparian-zone community.

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Kansas Geological Survey and Kansas State University, Phreatophyte Research Project
Updated Dec. 12, 2005
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