The desiccation of the Aral Sea due to water withdrawal from contributing rivers has resulted in an unprecedented change in the region's climate, from maritime to hot dry desert. Afforestation has been implemented on the desiccated seafloor-the Aralkum Desert-for stabilizing the exposed substrate. However, studies on the long-term status of the afforested sites are limited. Here, we examined C and N isotopic signatures in Haloxylon aphyllum plantations, as indicators of time-integrated plant response to the prevalent water and salinity constraints, in northern Aralkum, Kazakhstan. Foliar 13C composition analysis in a chronosequence of H. aphyllum plantation sites (aged 1-27 years) on the sandy substrate revealed a significant trend towards higher water-use efficiency in older plantations, possibly in response to declining water availability. A lack of correlation between plant 13C signature and soil electrical conductivity suggests no history of salt stress despite the saline environment. Furthermore, 15N enrichment in plant tissue in the water-limited Aralkum ecosystem indicates the relative openness of N cycling. There was an increase in species richness and self-propagation at the plot scale, indicating successful afforestation effort. Coupled with other approaches, isotope discrimination might elucidate mechanisms underlying stress tolerance in H. aphyllum, which could support the afforestation efforts.
- Central asia
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geography, Planning and Development
- Aquatic Science
- Water Science and Technology