The role of root distribution in eco-hydrological modeling in semi-arid regions

Sivandran, G.; Bras, R. L.

American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2010, abstract #B21A-0311

In semi arid regions, the rooting strategies employed by vegetation can be critical to its survival. Arid regions are characterized by high variability in the arrival of rainfall, and species found in these areas have adapted mechanisms to ensure the capture of this scarce resource. Niche separation, through rooting strategies, is one manner in which different species coexist. At present, land surface models prescribe rooting profiles as a function of only the plant functional type of interest with no consideration for the soil texture or rainfall regime of the region being modeled. These models do not incorporate the ability of vegetation to dynamically alter their rooting strategies in response to transient changes in environmental forcings and therefore tend to underestimate the resilience of many of these ecosystems. A coupled, dynamic vegetation and hydrologic model, tRIBS+VEGGIE, was used to explore the role of vertical root distribution on hydrologic fluxes. Point scale simulations were carried out using two vertical root distribution schemes: (i) Static – a temporally invariant root distribution; and (ii) Dynamic – a temporally variable allocation of assimilated carbon at any depth within the root zone in order to minimize the soil moisture-induced stress on the vegetation. The simulations were forced with a stochastic climate generator calibrated to weather stations and rain gauges in the semi-arid Walnut Gulch Experimental Watershed in Arizona. For the static root distribution scheme, a series of simulations were carried out varying the shape of the rooting profile. The optimal distribution for the simulation was defined as the root distribution with the maximum mean transpiration over a 200 year period. This optimal distribution was determined for 5 soil textures and using 2 plant functional types, and the results varied from case to case. The dynamic rooting simulations allow vegetation the freedom to adjust the allocation of assimilated carbon to different rooting depths in response to changes in stress caused by the redistribution and uptake of soil moisture. The results obtained from these experiments elucidate the strong link between plant functional type, soil texture and climate and highlight the potential errors in the modeling of hydrologic fluxes from imposing a static root profile.