Applying the eco-hydrological equilibrium hypothesis to model root distribution in water-limited forests

Cabon A., Martínez-Vilalta J., Martínez de Aragón J., Poyatos R., De Cáceres M. (2018) Applying the eco-hydrological equilibrium hypothesis to model root distribution in water-limited forests. Ecohydrology. : 0-0.
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Doi: 10.1002/eco.2015

Resum:

Drought is a key driver of vegetation dynamics, but plant water-uptake patterns and consequent plant responses to drought are poorly understood at large spatial scales. The capacity of vegetation to use soil water depends on its root distribution (RD). However, RD is extremely variable in space and difficult to measure in the field, which hinders accurate predictions of water fluxes and vegetation dynamics. We propose a new method to estimate RD within water balance models, assuming that vegetation is at eco-hydrological equilibrium (EHE). EHE conditions imply that vegetation optimizes RD such that transpiration is maximized within the limits of bearable drought stress, characterized here by species-specific hydraulic thresholds. Optimized RD estimates were validated against RD estimates obtained by model calibration from sap flow or soil moisture from 38 forest plots in Catalonia (NE Spain). In water-limited plots, optimized RD was similar to calibrated RD, but estimates diverged with higher water availability, suggesting that the EHE may not be assumed when water is not limiting. Thereafter, we applied the optimization procedure at the regional scale, to estimate RD for the water-limited forests of Catalonia. Regional variations of optimum RD reproduced many expected patterns in response to climate, soil physical properties, forest structure, and species hydraulic traits. We conclude that RD optimization, based on the EHE hypothesis and a simple description of plant hydraulics, produces realistic estimates of RD that can be used for model parameterization and shows promise to improve our ability to forecast vegetation dynamics under increased drought. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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Coupling a water balance model with forest inventory data to predict drought stress: The role of forest structural changes vs. climate changes

Caceres M.D., Martinez-Vilalta J., Coll L., Llorens P., Casals P., Poyatos R., Pausas J.G., Brotons L. (2015) Coupling a water balance model with forest inventory data to predict drought stress: The role of forest structural changes vs. climate changes. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology. 213: 77-90.
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Doi: 10.1016/j.agrformet.2015.06.012

Resum:

Mechanistic water balance models can be used to predict soil moisture dynamics and drought stress in individual forest stands. Predicting current and future levels of plant drought stress is important not only at the local scale, but also at larger, landscape to regional, scales, because these are the management scales at which adaptation and mitigation strategies are implemented. To obtain reliable predictions of soil moisture and plant drought stress over large extents, water balance models need to be complemented with detailed information about the spatial variation of vegetation and soil attributes. We designed, calibrated and validated a water balance model that produces annual estimates of drought intensity and duration for all plant cohorts in a forest stand. Taking Catalonia (NE Spain) as a case study, we coupled this model with plot records from two Spanish forest inventories in which species identity, diameter and height of plant cohorts were available. Leaf area index of each plant cohort was estimated from basal area using species-specific relationships. Vertical root distribution for each species in each forest plot was estimated by determining the distribution that maximized transpiration in the model, given average climatic conditions, soil attributes and stand density. We determined recent trends (period 1980-2010) in drought stress for the main tree species in Catalonia; where forest growth and densification occurs in many areas as a result of rural abandonment and decrease of forest management. Regional increases in drought stress were detected for most tree species, although we found high variation in stress changes among individual forest plots. Moreover, predicted trends in tree drought stress were mainly due to changes in leaf area occurred between the two forest inventories rather than to climatic trends. We conclude that forest structure needs to be explicitly considered in assessments of plant drought stress patterns and trends over large geographic areas, and that forest inventories are useful sources of data provided that reasonably good estimates of soil attributes and root distribution are available. Our approach coupled with recent improvements in forest survey technologies may allow obtaining spatially continuous and precise assessments of drought stress. Further efforts are needed to calibrate drought-related demographic processes before water balance and drought stress estimates can be fully used for the accurate prediction of drought impacts. © 2015 Elsevier B.V.

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