How Sustainable are Eucalyptus Plantations?

Forest Service scientists develop model to estimate water use in eucalyptus plantations

(A) The hydrological processes at the plantation level, and (B) the compartmental model for water movement within the eucalyptus tree used for this study. Models by Ying Ouyang.
Models used in this study: (A) The hydrological processes at the plantation level, and (B) the compartmental model for water movement within the eucalyptus trees. Models by Ying Ouyang.

Eucalypts – woody plants originally found in Australia — have been identified as one of the best feedstocks for bioenergy production due to their fast-growth rate and coppicing ability, but there are concerns about adverse environmental effects, some related to water consumption, and their water use efficiency is still poorly understood.

U.S. Forest Service research scientists from the Southern Research Station Center for Bottomland Hardwoods Research (CBHR) have developed a system dynamic modeling tool to investigate this issue using the STELLA (Structural Thinking and Experiential Learning Laboratory with Animation) software. Results were recently published in the journal Ecological Engineering.

After calibration and validation, the model was used to quantify the hydrological processes and water use in a 40 meter-square eucalyptus plantation. “The model was able to predict eucalyptus water use in a site-specific plantation under normal, wet, and dry soil conditions,” says Ying Ouyang, CBHR research hydrologist and the study’s lead author. “A characteristic monthly variation pattern was predicted for soil evaporation, leaf transpiration, and root uptake, with water use increasing from winter to summer and decreasing from summer to the following winter.”

“For the simulation conditions used in this study, the maximum rate of leaf transpiration was about five times greater than that of soil evaporation, and the cumulative annual water use by the eucalyptus trees in the plantation was 3200 liters per tree,” says Ouyang.

This study suggests that the system dynamic model developed with STELLA is a useful tool to estimate hydrological processes and water use in a eucalyptus plantation or other tree species plantations.

Read the full text of the article online.

For more information, email Ying Ouyang at youyang@fs.fed.us

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