Tree plantations have developed a reputation for excessive water use, with age commonly used as an explanatory variable to predict water loss – but many factors have the potential to affect plantation water use, and few of these alternatives have been considered. Changes in forest cover may be correlated with other environmental changes that may affect precipitation, transpiration, and runoff, indicating that more thorough investigation is required in both field and simulation studies. Several factors influencing water use by plantations are amenable to management control, so there is scope to design and manage forest plantations deliberately for water use efficiency. Research is needed to elucidate the relative contributions of forests and grasslands to atmospheric moisture; the influence of vegetation on the distribution of rainfall; the effect of air turbulence from plantation edges, firebreaks and streamlines; the potential to modify atmospheric coupling of forest plantations through plantation design, including the use of mixed species plantations, and by softening hard edges by thinning and pruning plantation edges.
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Publisher's version of article available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2008.09.003