Using stable water isotopes to understand ecohydrological partitioning under contrasting land uses in a drought-sensitive rural, lowland catchment

Jessica Landgraf* (Corresponding Author), Dörthe Tetzlaff, Songjun Wu, Jonas Freymüller, Chris Soulsby

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Vegetation plays an essential role in water partitioning, as it strongly influences evapotranspiration, infiltration and water retention. To analyse the influence of vegetation on water partitioning under innovative land management strategies, we used stable water isotopes as natural tracers to monitor precipitation, soil water and groundwater fluxes over the growing season of 2021 (March–October). We selected eight plot sites with four contrasting land covers and soil types in the drought-sensitive Demnitzer Millcreek Catchment (DMC) in NE Germany. The land use types include forest, grassland, and arable with the latter being subdivided into conventional (e.g., crops) and innovative (e.g., agroforestry) sites. Two weather stations, a flux tower, and in situ soil moisture monitoring complemented our isotopic data with a hydroclimatic context. The year of 2021 had near-normal precipitation totals compared to the prolonged drought of 2018–20. Soil water storage was highest at the agricultural sites, while lowest at the forest, though this reflected both the influence of soil properties (as forests dominated sand soils while crops loam soils) and the greater evapotranspiration from forests. We also estimated soil water ages and found the greatest isotopic variability and fastest turnover of water in the upper soils of arable sites. The forest soil water had the most limited variability in isotopic composition and tended to be older, revealing lower levels of groundwater recharge. Conventional and innovative cropping sites were similar to each other, likely due to the early tree development stage in agroforestry schemes under the latter. Our investigation revealed the forest sites are potentially most vulnerable to limited water availability in the DMC and land use changes in agricultural land lacked major differences in ecohydrological fluxes over the study year. The study further underlines the need for long-term observations of recent adaptive land use changes and drought-sensitive vegetation to improve our understanding and evolve drought resilient land management strategies considering time lags in impacts and non-stationarity.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14779
Number of pages20
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number12
Early online date26 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - 26 Dec 2022


  • drought
  • ecohydrological partitioning
  • ecohydrology
  • intermittent streams
  • land management
  • land use
  • soil moisture
  • stable water isotopes


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