Topographic, edaphic, and vegetative controls on plant-available water

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Soil moisture varies within landscapes in response to vegetative, physiographic, and climatic drivers, which makes quantifying soil moisture over time and space difficult. Nevertheless, understanding soil moisture dynamics for different ecosystems is critical, as the amount of water in a soil determines a myriad ecosystem services and processes such as net primary productivity, runoff, microbial decomposition, and soil fertility. We investigated the patterns and variability in in situ soil moisture measurements converted to plant-available water across time and space under different vegetative cover types and topographic positions at the Marcell Experimental Forest (Minnesota, USA). From 0 – 228.6 cm soil depth, plant-available water was significantly higher under the hardwoods (12%), followed by the aspen (8%) and red pine (5%) cover types. Across the same soil depth, toeslopes were wetter (mean plant-available water = 10%) than ridges and backslopes (mean plant-available water was 8%), although these differences were not statistically significant (p < 0.05). Using a mixed model of fixed and random effects, we found that cover type, soil texture, and time were related to plant-available water and that topography was not significantly related to plant-available water within this low-relief landscape. Additionally, during the three-year monitoring period, red pine and quaking aspen sites experienced plant-available water levels that may be considered limiting to plant growth and function. Given that increasing temperatures and more erratic precipitation patterns associated with climate change may result in decreased soil moisture in this region, these species may be sensitive and vulnerable to future shifts in climate.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Topographic, edaphic, and vegetative controls on plant-available water
Series title Ecohydrology
DOI 10.1002/eco.1897
Volume 10
Issue 8
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Southwest Biological Science Center
Description e1897; 12 p.
First page 1
Last page 12
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