Examination of the ecohydrological separation hypothesis in a humid subtropical area: Comparison of three methods

Zidong Luo, Huade Guan, Xinping Zhang, Xiang Xu, Junjie Dai, Mingquan Hua

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


The ecohydrological separation between soil water sources for plant water uptake and groundwater recharge has been recently examined in various climate zones primarily based on isotopic composition of water. The existence of the ecohydrological separation has profound implications for mechanistic ecohydrological modeling and water resource management. However, it is still unclear when and where the ecohydrological separation occurs, especially in humid regions. In this study, high frequency sampling of precipitation, bulk soil water, groundwater and twig xylem water for hydrogen and oxygen isotope composition measurement was conducted in a humid subtropical site in the central southern China from March 2017 to April 2018. We examined evidence of the ecohydrological separation with three methods (dual-isotope space, line-conditioned excess (lc-excess), and the piecewise isotope balance (PIB) method). The results show that the isotopic composition of plant xylem and bulk soil water are not distinguishable from those of precipitation water on the dual-isotope space due to a weak evaporation effect at the study site, indicating that there is no evidence of the ecohydrological separation. However, the other two methods support the ecohydrological separation in this humid area, with the results from the PIB method revealing more temporal details. The present study suggests that the ecohydrological separation can happen in subtropical humid climate. It is more likely to occur in spring and winter at the study site when plant-accessible water pool has been replenished by antecedent precipitation, while ecohydrological connection seems to occur during winter snowmelt. With the limitations of three methods, the caution should be taken when only one method is applied in examining the ecohydrological separation in such an environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)642-650
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019


  • Ecohydrological separation
  • lc-excess
  • Piecewise isotope balance method
  • Plant accessible water
  • Stable isotopes
  • Water replenishment


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