On the Vulnerability of Water Limited Ecosystems to Climate Change

Society is facing growing environmental problems that require new research efforts to understand the way ecosystems operate and survive, and their mutual relationships with the hydrologic cycle. In this respect, ecohydrology suggests a renewed interdisciplinary approach that aims to provide a better comprehension of the effects of climatic changes on terrestrial ecosystems. With this aim, a coupled hydrological/ecological model is adopted to describe simultaneously vegetation pattern evolution and hydrological water budget at the basin scale using as test site the Upper Rio Salado basin (Sevilleta, NM, USA). The hydrological analyses have been carried out using a recently formulated framework for the water balance at the daily level linked with a spatial model for the description of the spatial organization of vegetation. This enables quantitatively assessing the effects on soil water
availability on future climatic scenarios. Results highlighted that the relationship between climatic forcing (water availability) and vegetation patterns is strongly non-linear. This implies, under some specific conditions which depend on the ecosystem characteristics, small changes in climatic conditions may produce significant transformation of the vegetation patterns.

How to cite: Manfreda, S., K.K. Caylor, On The Vulnerability of Water Limited Ecosystems to Climate ChangeWater, 5(2), 819-833; (doi:10.3390/w5020819), 2013. [pdf]

On the importance of accurate depiction of infiltration processes on modelled soil moisture and vegetation water stress

The description of soil moisture dynamics is a challenging problem for the hydrological community, as it is governed by complex interactions between climate, soil and vegetation. Recent research has achieved significant advances in the description of temporal dynamics of soil water balance through the use of a stochastic differential equation proposed by Laio et al. (2001). The assumptions of the Laio et al. model simplify the mathematical form of the soil water loss functions and the infiltration process. In particular, runoff occurs only for saturation excess, the probability distribution function (PDF) of which is well represented by a simple expression, but the model does not consider the limited infiltration capacity of soil. In the present work, we extend the soil moisture model to include limitations on soil infiltration capacity with the aim of understanding the impact of varying infiltration processes on the soil water balance and vegetation stress. A comparison between the two models (the original version and the modified one) is carried out via numerical simulations. The limited infiltration capacity influences the soil moisture PDF by reducing its mean and variance. Major changes in the PDFs are found for climates characterized by storms of short duration and high rainfall intensity, as well as in humid climates and in cases where soils have moderate permeability (e.g. loam and clay soils). In the case of limited infiltration capacity, modifications to the dynamics of soil moisture generally lead to higher amounts of vegetation water stress. An investigation of the role of soil texture on vegetation water stress demonstrates that loam soil provides the most favorable condition for plant-growth under arid and semi-arid conditions, while vegetation may benefit from the presence of more permeable soils (e.g. loamy sand) in humid climates.

How to cite: Manfreda, S., T.M. Scanlon, K.K. Caylor, On the importance of accurate depiction of infiltration processes on modelled soil moisture and vegetation water stressEcohydrology, 3, 155-165, (doi: 10.1002/eco.79), 2010. [pdf]

The Olive Tree: a Paradigm for Drought Tolerance in Mediterranean Climates

Olive trees (Olea europaea L.) are commonly grown in the Mediterranean basin where prolonged droughts may occur during the vegetative period. This species has developed a series of physiological mechanisms, that can be observed in several plants of the Mediterranean macchia, to tolerate drought stress and grow under adverse climatic conditions. These mechanisms have been investigated through an experimental campaign carried out over both irrigated and drought-stressed plants in order to comprehend the plant response under stressed conditions and its ability to recover. Experimental results show that olive plants subjected to water deficit lower the water content and water potentials of their tissues, establishing a particularly high potential gradient between leaves and roots, and stop canopy growth but not photosynthetic activity and transpiration. This allows the continuous production of assimilates as well as their accumulation in the various plant parts, so creating a higher root/leaf ratio if compared to well-watered plants. Active and passive osmotic adjustment due to the accumulation of carbohydrates (in particular mannitol and glucose), proline and other osmolytes have key roles in maintaining cell turgor and leaf activities. At severe drought-stress levels, the non-stomatal component of photosynthesis is inhibited and a light-dependent inactivation of the photosystem II occurs. Finally, the activities of some antioxidant enzymes involved in the scavenging of activated oxygen species and in other biochemical pathways increase during a period of drought. The present paper provides an overview of the driving mechanisms adopted by olive trees to face drought stress with the aim of better understanding plant-soil interactions.

How to cite: Sofo, A., S. Manfreda, B. Dichio, M. Fiorentino, C. Xiloyannis, The Olive Tree: a Paradigm for Drought Tolerance in Mediterranean Climates, Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 12, 293-301, (doi:10.5194/hess-12-293-2008), 2008. [pdf]