Tamarix ramosissima (Tamaricaceae) is a woody phreatophyte that has invaded thousands of hectares of floodplain habitat in the southwestern U.S. In this study, we examined the response of gas exchange and stem sap flow of Tamarix and three co-occurring native phreatophytes (Pluchea sericea (Asteraceae), Prosopis pubescens (Fabaceae) and Salix exigua (Salicaceae)) to drought conditions in an early successional floodplain community in the Mojave Desert of southern Nevada. In an analysis of a size/age series of each species across the whole floodplain (both mature and successional stands), stem growth rate was lowest for Tamarix. However, along the same successional chronosequence, Tamarix came to dominate the 50+ year old stands with dense thickets of high stem density. Xylem sap flow, when expressed on a sapwood area basis, was highest in Tamarix under early drought conditions, but comparable between the four species toward the end of the summer dry season. Multivariate analysis of the gas exchange data indicated that the four species differentiated based on water use under early drought conditions and separated based on plant water potential and leaf temperature (indices of drought effects) at the end of the summer dry season. This analysis suggests that the invasive Tamarix is the most drought tolerant of the four species, whereas Salix transpires the most water per unit leaf surface area and is the least tolerant of seasonal water stress. Therefore, Salix appears to be well adapted to early successional communities. However, as floodplains in this arid region become more desiccated with age, Tamarix assumes greater dominance due to its superior drought tolerance relative to native phreatophytes and its ability to produce high density stands and high leaf area.
Keywords: Key words Succession; Drought stress; Mojave Desert; Riparian; Tamarix.