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Historic water channels as a long-term irrigation experiment

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On the south and south-east slopes of the Rhine valley between Lens and Varen in Valais, conditions are extremely dry. Vegetation is sparse and the trees are small – some have even died off. But not along the historic irrigation, or bisses, channels. For more than 500 years, these have channeled water into fields and meadows, with some of this water trickling off along the way – some­thing the trees near the channels have used to their advantage.

While working on her doctoral thesis, Linda Feichtinger discovered that Scots pines along the irrigation channels that only recently started channeling water again after a long period of inactivity were growing better than those along permanently active channels. The fresh influx of water helped break down deposits of plant litter that had gradually built up, and the trees suddenly had access to additional nutrients. Experiments of this nature provide a unique opportunity to investigate how trees grow with different water supplies, and offer valuable prognoses as to how forests will develop in a changing climate. (Reinhard Lässig, Diagonal 1/16)