A primary challenge in critical zone science is to understand and predict the interaction between aboveground and belowground ecohydrologic processes. We study the role of hydraulic redistribution (HR) by roots as a mechanism for facilitating aboveground-belowground interactions that drive water and carbon dynamics and the development of emergent spatial patterns of soil moisture and vegetation distribution. By linking field measurements of stem, taproot, and lateral root sap flux, with a shared resource model where the soil is a common reservoir, we examine competitive and facilitative dependencies between the co-occurring plant species. We used trenching as a means of severing any HR connectivity between overstory and understory plants in a subset of plots. We monitored leaf- level transpiration, photosynthesis, sub-canopy ET, NEE, soil evaporation, and soil respiration for trenched and un-trenched (control) trees in a dryland savanna that lacks access to stable soil moisture sources. HR in the trees at the site is detected, but the implications of HR on overstory-understory interactions and resulting spatial patterns and gradients remain untested. During an inter-storm period of the rainy season, we observed hydraulic lift, which may be increasing water availability to understory. Understory grasses may survive inter-storm dry periods by way of facilitative dependency on water resources supplied by overstory trees. On the other hand, immediately after storms we observe hydraulic descent that may be reducing water availability for the understory. Modeling is incorporated to capture the competitive and facilitative interaction between aboveground and belowground as detected in the field. This study provides deep insights for dryland regions, which enables broader generalizations regarding the interaction between groundwater, vegetation roots and aboveground assemblage and their role in whole-ecosystem performance.
Lee E., Kumar P., Barron-Gafford G., Scott R., Hendryx S., Sanchez-Canete E. (2015): Determining the Role of Hydraulic Redistribution Regimes in the Critical Zone. Abstract H53E-1701 presented at 2015 Fall Meeting, AGU, San Francisco, CA, 14-18 Dec..
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.