skip to main content

Title: Ecosystem processes at the watershed scale: Influence of flowpath patterns of canopy ecophysiology on emergent catchment water and carbon cycling

Forest canopy water use and carbon cycling traits (WCT) can vary substantially and in spatially organized patterns, with significant impacts on watershed ecohydrology. In many watersheds, WCT may vary systematically along and between hydrologic flowpaths as an adaptation to available soil water, nutrients, and microclimate‐mediated atmospheric water demand. We hypothesize that the emerging patterns of WCT at the hillslope to catchment scale provide a more resistant ecohydrological system, particularly with respect to drought stress, and the maintenance of high levels of productivity. Rather than attempting to address this hypothesis with species‐specific patterns, we outline broader functional WCT groups and explore the sensitivity of water and carbon balances to the representation of canopy WCT functional organization through a modelling approach. We use a well‐studied experimental watershed in North Carolina where detailed mapping of forest community patterns are sufficient to describe WCT functional organization. Ecohydrological models typically use broad‐scale characterizations of forest canopy composition based on remotely sensed information (e.g., evergreen vs. deciduous), which may not adequately represent the range or spatial pattern of functional group WCT at hillslope to watershed scales. We use three different representations of WCT functional organizations: (1) restricting WCT to deciduous/conifer differentiation, (2) utilizing more detailed, but aspatial, information on local forest community composition, and (3) spatially distributed representation of local forest WCT. Accounting for WCT functional organization information improves model performance not only in terms of capturing observed flow regimes (especially watershed‐scale seasonal flow dynamics) but also in terms of representing more detailed canopy ecohydrologic behaviour (e.g., root zone soil moisture, evapotranspiration, and net canopy photosynthesis), especially under dry condition. Results suggest that the well‐known zonation of forest communities over hydrologic gradients is not just a local adaptation but also provides a property that regulates hillslope to catchment‐scale behaviour of water use and drought resistance.

more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    The Hammond Hill Research Catchment (HH) is a small (120 ha), temperate, second order tributary to Six Mile Creek, Cayuga Lake, and the Great Lakes (42.42°, −76.32°). The HH has been monitored since January 2017 for the purpose of understanding how recent infiltration mixes with antecedent soil water on hillslope forest floors and the spatial and temporal patterns of Root Water Uptake (RWU) by temperate northeastern US tree species (eastern hemlock [Tsuga canadensis], American beech [Fagus grandifolia], and sugar maple [Acer saccharum]). These data are informing us about the hydrologic consequences of anticipated tree species composition change and supporting the development of more refined ecohydrological models. The glaciated catchment is underlain by a shallow confining siltstone layer (1–1.5 m depth) and densely covered with an approximately 60 year old regrowth mixed species forest of hemlock, beech, and other deciduous tree species common to the northeastern US. Current datasets from the HH include precipitation snow water equivalent, discharge, and associated isotopic water compositions, δ2H & δ18O. Measurements of (top 10 cm) soil water content, as well as bulk soil water and hemlock and beech xylem isotopic compositions are made at several locations across a topographic wetness gradient. The near‐term role of the HH is to support an understanding of the environmental and ecological drivers of plant RWU competition. All data from the HH are publicly available.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    The complex ecohydrological processes of rangelands can be studied through the framework of ecological sites (ESs) or hillslope‐scale soil–vegetation complexes. High‐quality hydrologic field investigations are needed to quantitatively link ES characteristics to hydrologic function. Geophysical tools are useful in this context because they provide valuable information about the subsurface at appropriate spatial scales. We conducted 20 field experiments in which we deployed time‐lapse electrical resistivity tomography (ERT), variable intensity rainfall simulation, ground‐penetrating radar (GPR), and seismic refraction, on hillslope plots at five different ESs within the Upper Crow Creek Watershed in south‐east Wyoming. Surface runoff was measured using a precalibrated flume. Infiltration data from the rainfall simulations, coupled with site‐specific resistivity–water content relationships and ERT datasets, were used to spatially and temporally track the progression of the wetting front. First‐order constraints on subsurface structure were made at each ES using the geophysical methods. Sites ranged from infiltrating 100% of applied rainfall to infiltrating less than 60%. Analysis of covariance results indicated significant differences in the rate of wetting front progression, ranging from 0.346 m min−1/2for sites with a subsurface dominated by saprolitic material to 0.156 m min−1/2for sites with a well‐developed soil profile. There was broad agreement in subsurface structure between the geophysical methods with GPR typically providing the most detail. Joint interpretation of the geophysics showed that subsurface features such as soil layer thickness and the location of subsurface obstructions such as granite corestones and material boundaries had a large effect on the rate of infiltration and subsurface flow processes. These features identified through the geophysics varied significantly by ES. By linking surface hydrologic information from the rainfall simulations with subsurface information provided by the geophysics, we can characterize the ES‐specific hydrologic response. Both surface and subsurface flow processes differed among sites and are directly linked to measured characteristics.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Epiphytes are aerial plants, often characterized by CAM (crassulacean acid metabolism) photosynthesis, which make up a significant portion of the biomass in some rainforests. Their unique characteristics have not yet been included in ecohydrological models, and their potential impact on local hydrometeorology is largely unexplored. This work introduces a water balance model for epiphytes, which adapts the soil‐plant‐atmosphere continuum model to represent a plant system without soil and couples it to the Photo3 photosynthesis model, which includes CAM photosynthesis. The model, which is parameterized with field data ofGuzmania monostachia, accurately captures the observed hydraulic and photosynthetic behaviour of the epiphytic species. The application of vertical profiles of environmental inputs within the rainforest canopy shows increasing transpiration rates and decreasing water use efficiency with increasing canopy height, which corresponds to observed distributions of epiphytes in rainforests. Given that vascular epiphytes constitute a maximum of 35–50% of the foliar biomass in rainforests and contribute up to 13% of forest net primary production, they may contribute up to 10–50% of total rainforest evapotranspiration, a significant portion of the water cycle on the local ecosystem scale. The results of this work provide a missing piece to current ecohydrological models and can be integrated into Earth system models to help improve the physical representation of transpiration and free‐surface evaporation from canopy in current and future climates.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Drought extent and severity have increased and are predicted to continue to increase in many parts of the world. Understanding tree vulnerability to drought at both individual and species levels is key to ongoing forest management and preparation for future transitions in community composition. The influence of subsurface hydrologic processes is particularly important in water‐limited ecosystems, and is an under‐studied aspect of tree drought vulnerability. With California's 2013–2016 extraordinary drought as a natural experiment, we studied four co‐occurring woodland tree species, blue oak (Quercus douglasii), valley oak (Quercus lobata), gray pine (Pinus sabiniana), and California juniper (Juniperus californica), examining drought vulnerability as a function of climate, lithology and hydrology using regional aerial dieback surveys and site‐scale field surveys. We found that in addition to climatic drought severity (i.e., rainfall), subsurface processes explained variation in drought vulnerability within and across species at both scales. Regionally for blue oak, severity of dieback was related to the bedrock lithology, with higher mortality on igneous and metamorphic substrates, and to regional reductions in groundwater. At the site scale, access to deep subsurface water, evidenced by stem water stable isotope composition, was related to canopy condition across all species. Along hillslope gradients, channel locations supported similar environments in terms of water stress across a wide climatic gradient, indicating that subsurface hydrology mediates species’ experience of drought, and that areas associated with persistent access to subsurface hydrologic resources may provide important refugia at species’ xeric range edges. Despite this persistent overall influence of the subsurface environment, individual species showed markedly different response patterns. We argue that hydrologic niche segregation can be a useful lens through which to interpret these differences in vulnerability to climatic drought and climate change.

    more » « less
  5. null (Ed.)
    Understanding and predicting catchment responses to a regional disturbance is difficult because catchments are spatially heterogeneous systems that exhibit unique moderating characteristics. Changes in precipitation composition in the Northeastern U.S. is one prominent example, where reduction in wet and dry deposition is hypothesized to have caused increased dissolved organic carbon (DOC) export from many northern hemisphere forested catchments; however, findings from different locations contradict each other. Using shifts in acid deposition as a test case, we illustrate an iterative “process and pattern” approach to investigate the role of catchment characteristics in modulating the steam DOC response. We use a novel dataset that integrates regional and catchment-scale atmospheric deposition data, catchment characteristics and co-located stream Q and stream chemistry data. We use these data to investigate opportunities and limitations of a pattern-to-process approach where we explore regional patterns of reduced acid deposition, catchment characteristics and stream DOC response and specific soil processes at select locations. For pattern investigation, we quantify long-term trends of flow-adjusted DOC concentrations in stream water, along with wet deposition trends in sulfate, for USGS headwater catchments using Seasonal Kendall tests and then compare trend results to catchment attributes. Our investigation of climatic, topographic, and hydrologic catchment attributes vs. directionality of DOC trends suggests soil depth and catchment connectivity as possible modulating factors for DOC concentrations. This informed our process-to-pattern investigation, in which we experimentally simulated increased and decreased acid deposition on soil cores from catchments of contrasting long-term DOC response [Sleepers River Research Watershed (SRRW) for long-term increases in DOC and the Susquehanna Shale Hills Critical Zone Observatory (SSHCZO) for long-term decreases in DOC]. SRRW soils generally released more DOC than SSHCZO soils and losses into recovery solutions were higher. Scanning electron microscope imaging indicates a significant DOC contribution from destabilizing soil aggregates mostly from hydrologically disconnected landscape positions. Results from this work illustrate the value of an iterative process and pattern approach to understand catchment-scale response to regional disturbance and suggest opportunities for further investigations. 
    more » « less