Matching ecohydrological processes and scales of banded vegetation patterns in semiarid catchments
© 2016. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved. While the claim that water-carbon interactions result in spatially coherent vegetation patterning is rarely disputed in many arid and semiarid regions, the significance of the detailed water pathways and other high frequency variability remain an open question. How the short temporal scale meteorological fluctuations form the long-term spatial variability of available soil water in complex terrains due to the various hydrological, land surface, and vegetation dynamic feedbacks frames the scope of the work here. Knowledge of the detailed mechanistic feedbacks among soil, plants, and the atmosphere will lead to advances in our understanding of plant water availability in arid and semiarid ecosystems and will provide insights for future model development concerning vegetation pattern formation. In this study, quantitative estimates of water fluxes and vegetation productivity are provided for a semiarid ecosystem with established vegetation bands on hillslopes using numerical simulations. A state-of-the-science process based ecohydrological model is used, which resolves hydrological and plant physiological processes at the relevant space and time scales, for relatively small periods (e.g., decades) of mature ecosystems (i.e., spatially static vegetation distribution). To unfold the mechanisms that shape the spatial distribution of soil moisture, plant productivity and the relevant surface/subsurface and atmospheric water fluxes, idealized hillslope numerical experiments are constructed, where the effects of soil type, slope steepness, and overland flow accumulation area are quantified. Those mechanisms are also simulated in the presence of complex topography features on landscapes. The main results are (a) short temporal scale meteorological variability and accurate representation of the scales at which each ecohydrological process operates are crucial for the estimation of the spatial variability of soil water availability to the plant root zone; (b) water fluxes such as evapotranspiration, infiltration, runoff-run-on, and subsurface soil water movement have a dynamic short temporal scale behavior that determines the long-term spatial organization of plant soil water availability in ecosystems with established vegetation patterns; and (c) hypotheses concerning the hydrological responses that can lead to vegetation pattern formation have to accommodate realistic and physically based representations of the fast dynamics of key ecohydrological fluxes.
Paschalis, A; Katul, GG; Fatichi, S; Manoli, G; Molnar, P
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