This paper examines the water dynamics of a coastal dune plant community, addressing spatial and seasonal variations. We aimed to detect the patterns of water use by plants at the community level according to their distribution across a coastal dune gradient from beach to inland.
Five sites were established: upper beach, embryo-dune, slack, foredune, and inland. Eight perennial species were collected seasonally to analyse the isotopic composition and water potential. Soil water samples at 3 depths, groundwater, and atmosphere, were obtained to determine plant water sources.
The species from Inland and foredune plant communities, Retama, Juniperus, and Helichrysum, showed the most stable isotopic signal throughout the year. On the contrary, the species most abundant on the upper beach, embryo-dune, and slack (Ammophila, Achillea, and Polygonum) showed the highest variability. Water deficit decreased the dependence on shallow and mid-soil layers along the beach-inland gradient. Beach and embryo-dune sites showed less negative leaf water potential values than the other positions in the dune gradient.
Three factors mark the proportion of water sources used for vegetation in coastal vegetation: community composition, distance to the sea, and seasonality. Coastal dune vegetation exhibited a species-specific response in water uptake that was modified by its location on the gradient. From upper beach to inland, the plant communities showed a slight progressive increase in the use of water from deeper layers. This pattern was similar and overlapped with the wet to dry seasonal pattern.