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Research article2017Peer reviewed

Strategies trees use to overcome seasonal water limitation in an agroforestry system in semiarid West Africa

Tobella, A. Bargues; Hasselquist, N. J.; Bazie, H. R.; Nyberg, G.; Laudon, H.; Bayala, J.; Ilstedt, U.


Agroforestry parklands, in which annual crops are grown under scattered mature trees, constitute the most prevalent farming system in semiarid West Africa, covering vast areas of land. The most dominant tree species in these systems is Vitellaria paradoxa, an indigenous tree to West Africa. Despite the importance of this tree in the region, no study to our knowledge has examined its sources and patterns of water uptake. In this study, we used oxygen stable isotopes at natural abundance levels to investigate water sources used by V. paradoxa both in the dry and wet season in an agroforestry parkland in Burkina Faso. We found that during the wet season soil moisture was highest near the soil surface (< 10 cm depth), yet during this time V. paradoxa preferentially accessed water from slightly deeper soil depths, obtaining ca. 90% of its water from 10 to 50 cm depth. In contrast, soil moisture in the upper soil layers was significantly lower during the dry season and as a result V. paradoxa shifted to deeper water sources, obtaining ca. 30% of its water from groundwater and ca. 50% from 30 to 600 cm depth. We also found a negative relationship between tree size and the contribution of groundwater during the dry season, whereas during the wet season V. paradoxa predominantly used water near the soil surface regardless of tree size. Knowledge about the sources and patterns of tree water uptake provides crucial information to better understand how trees influence the local water balance.


agroforestry parklands; Burkina Faso; drylands; groundwater; oxygen stable isotopes; Shea tree; water source partitioning

Published in

2017, Volume: 10, number: 3, article number: UNSP e1808