skip to main content


The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 11:00 PM ET on Thursday, June 13 until 2:00 AM ET on Friday, June 14 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

This content will become publicly available on March 1, 2025

Title: Trade-off of ecosystem productivity and water use related to afforestation in southcentral USA under climate change
The increase of tree canopy cover due to woody plant encroachment and tree plantations modifies both carbon and water dynamics. The tradeoffs between ecosystem net primary productivity (NPP) and water use with increasing tree cover in different climate conditions, particularly under future climate scenarios, are not well understood. Within the climate transition zone of the southern Great Plains, USA, we used the Soil and Water Assessment Tool+ (SWAT+) to investigate the combined impacts of increasing tree cover and climate change on carbon and water dynamics in three watersheds representing semiarid, subhumid, and humid climates. Model simulations incorporated two land use modifications (Baseline: existing tree cover; Forest +: increasing evergreen tree cover), in conjunction with two climate change projections (the RCP45 and the RCP85), spanning two time periods (historic: 1991-2020; future: 2070-2099). With climate change, the subhumid and humid watersheds exhibited a greater increase in evapotranspiration (ET) and a corresponding reduction in runoff compared to the semi-arid watershed, while the semi-arid and subhumid watersheds encountered pronounced losses in water availability for streams (>200 mm/year) due to increasing tree cover and climate change. With every 1 % increase in tree cover, both NPP and water use efficiency were projected to increase in all three watersheds under both climate change scenarios, with the subhumid watershed demonstrating the largest increases (>0.16 Mg/ha/year and 170 %, respectively). Increasing tree cover within grasslands, either through woody plant expansion or afforestation, boosts ecosystem NPP, particularly in subhumid regions. Nevertheless, this comes with a notable decrease in water resources, a concern made worse by future climate change. While afforestation offers the potential for greater NPP, it also brings heightened water scarcity concerns, highlighting the importance of tailoring carbon sequestration strategies within specific regions to mitigate unintended repercussions on water availability.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Science of The Total Environment
Page Range / eLocation ID:
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. The varied topography and large elevation gradients that characterize the arid and semi-arid Southwest create a wide range of climatic conditions - and associated biomes - within relatively short distances. This creates an ideal experimental system in which to study the effects of climate on ecosystems. Such studies are critical given that the Southwestern U.S. has already experienced changes in climate that have altered precipitation patterns (Mote et al. 2005), and stands to experience dramatic climate change in the coming decades (Seager et al. 2007; Ting et al. 2007). Climate models currently predict an imminent transition to a warmer, more arid climate in the Southwest (Seager et al. 2007; Ting et al. 2007). Thus, high elevation ecosystems, which currently experience relatively cool and mesic climates, will likely resemble their lower elevation counterparts, which experience a hotter and drier climate. In order to predict regional changes in carbon storage, hydrologic partitioning and water resources in response to these potential shifts, it is critical to understand how both temperature and soil moisture affect processes such as evaportranspiration (ET), total carbon uptake through gross primary production (GPP), ecosystem respiration (Reco), and net ecosystem exchange of carbon, water and energy across elevational gradients. We are using a sequence of six widespread biomes along an elevational gradient in New Mexico -- ranging from hot, arid ecosystems at low elevations to cool, mesic ecosystems at high elevation to test specific hypotheses related to how climatic controls over ecosystem processes change across this gradient. We have an eddy covariance tower and associated meteorological instruments in each biome which we are using to directly measure the exchange of carbon, water and energy between the ecosystem and the atmosphere. This gradient offers us a unique opportunity to test the interactive effects of temperature and soil moisture on ecosystem processes, as temperature decreases and soil moisture increases markedly along the gradient and varies through time within sites. This dataset examines how different stages of burn affects above-ground biomass production (ANPP) in a mixed desert-grassland. Net primary production is a fundamental ecological variable that quantifies rates of carbon consumption and fixation. Estimates of NPP are important in understanding energy flow at a community level as well as spatial and temporal responses to a range of ecological processes. Above-ground net primary production is the change in plant biomass, represented by stems, flowers, fruit and foliage, over time and incorporates growth as well as loss to death and decomposition. To measure this change the vegetation variables in this dataset, including species composition and the cover and height of individuals, are sampled twice yearly (spring and fall) at permanent 1m x 1m plots. The data from these plots is used to build regressions correlating biomass and volume via weights of select harvested species obtained in SEV157, "Net Primary Productivity (NPP) Weight Data." This biomass data is included in SEV292, "Flux Tower Seasonal Biomass and Seasonal and Annual NPP Data." 
    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Tropical ecosystems are under increasing pressure from land‐use change and deforestation. Changes in tropical forest cover are expected to affect carbon and water cycling with important implications for climatic stability at global scales. A major roadblock for predicting how tropical deforestation affects climate is the lack of baseline conditions (i.e., prior to human disturbance) of forest–savanna dynamics. To address this limitation, we developed a long‐term analysis of forest and savanna distribution across the Amazon–Cerrado transition of central Brazil. We used soil organic carbon isotope ratios as a proxy for changes in woody vegetation cover over time in response to fluctuations in precipitation inferred from speleothem oxygen and strontium stable isotope records. Based on stable isotope signatures and radiocarbon activity of organic matter in soil profiles, we quantified the magnitude and direction of changes in forest and savanna ecosystem cover. Using changes in tree cover measured in 83 different locations for forests and savannas, we developed interpolation maps to assess the coherence of regional changes in vegetation. Our analysis reveals a broad pattern of woody vegetation expansion into savannas and densification within forests and savannas for at least the past ~1,600 years. The rates of vegetation change varied significantly among sampling locations possibly due to variation in local environmental factors that constrain primary productivity. The few instances in which tree cover declined (7.7% of all sampled profiles) were associated with savannas under dry conditions. Our results suggest a regional increase in moisture and expansion of woody vegetation prior to modern deforestation, which could help inform conservation and management efforts for climate change mitigation. We discuss the possible mechanisms driving forest expansion and densification of savannas directly (i.e., increasing precipitation) and indirectly (e.g., decreasing disturbance) and suggest future research directions that have the potential to improve climate and ecosystem models.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    The southern Great Plains of the USA has great potential to produce biofuel feedstock while minimizing the dual stresses of woody plant encroachment and climate change. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) cultivation, woody biomass captured during removal of the encroaching eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) to restore grasslands and thinning of the native oak forest can provide an integrated source of feedstock and improve ecosystem services. In north‐central Oklahoma, we quantified productivity and ecosystem water use of switchgrass stands and degraded ecosystems encroached by eastern redcedar and compared these to native oak forest and tallgrass prairie ecosystems. We measured aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP) using allometric equations (trees) and clip plots (herbaceous), and evapotranspiration (ET) using a water balance approach from gauged watersheds, and calculated water use efficiency (WUE = ANPP/ET) from 2016 to 2019. Among vegetation cover types, ANPP averaged 5.1, 5.4, 6.0, and 7.8 Mg ha−1 year−1for the prairie, oak, eastern redcedar, and switchgrass watersheds and was significantly greater for switchgrass in 2018 and 2019 (2 and 3 years post establishment) when it reached 8.6 Mg ha−1 year−1. Averaged across 2017–2019, ET was significantly greater in the forested watersheds than the grassland watersheds (1022 mm year−1for eastern redcedar, 1025 mm year−1for oak, 874 mm year−1for prairie, and 828 mm year−1for switchgrass). The mean WUE was significantly greater (9.47 kg ha−1 mm−1) for switchgrass than for the prairie, eastern redcedar, and oak cover types (6.03, 6.02, and 5.31 kg ha−1 mm−1). Switchgrass offered benefits of greater ANPP, less ET, and greater WUE. Our findings indicate that an integrated biofuel feedstock system that includes converting eastern redcedar encroached areas to switchgrass and thinning the oak forest can increase productivity, increase runoff to streams, and improve ecosystem services.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Climate change and energy security promote using renewable sources of energy such as biofuels. High woody biomass production achieved from short‐rotation intensive plantations is a strategy that is increasing in many parts of the world. However, broad expansion of bioenergy feedstock production may have significant environmental consequences. This study investigates the watershed‐scale hydrological impacts of Eucalyptus(E. grandis) plantations for energy production in a humid subtropical watershed in Entre Rios province, Argentina. A Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model was calibrated and validated for streamflow, leaf area index (LAI), and biomass production cycles. The model was used to simulate various Eucalyptusplantation scenarios that followed physically based rules for land use conversion (in various extents and locations in the watershed) to study hydrological effects, biomass production, and the green water footprint of energy production. SWAT simulations indicated that the most limiting factor for plant growth was shallow soils causing seasonal water stress. This resulted in a wide range of biomass productivity throughout the watershed. An optimization algorithm was developed to find the best location for Eucalyptusdevelopment regarding highest productivity with least water impact. E. grandisplantations had higher evapotranspiration rates compared to existing terrestrial land cover classes; therefore, intensive land use conversion to E. grandiscaused a decline in streamflow, with January through March being the most affected months. October was the least‐affected month hydrologically, since high rainfall rates overcame the canopy interception and higher ET rates of E. grandisin this month. Results indicate that, on average, producing 1 kg of biomass in this region uses 0.8 m3of water, and the green water footprint of producing 1 m3fuel is approximately 2150 m3water, or 57 m3water per GJ of energy, which is lower than reported values for wood‐based ethanol, sugar cane ethanol, and soybean biodiesel.

    more » « less
  5. Drylands cover ca. 40% of the land surface and are hypothesised to play a major role in the global carbon cycle, controlling both long-term trends and interannual variation. These insights originate from land surface models (LSMs) that have not been extensively calibrated and evaluated for water-limited ecosystems. We need to learn more about dryland carbon dynamics, particularly as the transitory response and rapid turnover rates of semi-arid systems may limit their function as a carbon sink over multi-decadal scales. We quantified aboveground biomass carbon (AGC; inferred from SMOS L-band vegetation optical depth) and gross primary productivity (GPP; from PML-v2 inferred from MODIS observations) and tested their spatial and temporal correspondence with estimates from the TRENDY ensemble of LSMs. We found strong correspondence in GPP between LSMs and PML-v2 both in spatial patterns (Pearson’s r = 0.9 for TRENDY-mean) and in inter-annual variability, but not in trends. Conversely, for AGC we found lesser correspondence in space (Pearson’s r = 0.75 for TRENDY-mean, strong biases for individual models) and in the magnitude of inter-annual variability compared to satellite retrievals. These disagreements likely arise from limited representation of ecosystem responses to plant water availability, fire, and photodegradation that drive dryland carbon dynamics. We assessed inter-model agreement and drivers of long-term change in carbon stocks over centennial timescales. This analysis suggested that the simulated trend of increasing carbon stocks in drylands is in soils and primarily driven by increased productivity due to CO 2 enrichment. However, there is limited empirical evidence of this 50-year sink in dryland soils. Our findings highlight important uncertainties in simulations of dryland ecosystems by current LSMs, suggesting a need for continued model refinements and for greater caution when interpreting LSM estimates with regards to current and future carbon dynamics in drylands and by extension the global carbon cycle. 
    more » « less