Plant Spatial Pattern Predicts Hillslope Runoff and Erosion in a Semiarid Mediterranean Landscape
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- Bautista, S., Mayor, Á.G., Bourakhouadar, J. et al. Ecosystems (2007) 10: 987. doi:10.1007/s10021-007-9074-3
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The importance of the spatial pattern of vegetation for hydrological behavior in semiarid environments is widely acknowledged. However, there is little empirical work testing the hypothetical covariation between vegetation spatial structure and hillslope water and sediment fluxes. We evaluated the relationships between vegetation structural attributes (spatial pattern, functional diversity), soil surface properties (crust, stone, plant, and ground cover, and particle size distribution) and hillslope hydrologic functioning in a semiarid Mediterranean landscape; in particular, we tested whether decreasing patch density or coarsening plant spatial pattern would increase runoff and sediment yield at the hillslope scale. Runoff and sediment yield were measured over a 45-month period on nine 8 × 2-m plots that varied in vegetation type and spatial pattern. We grouped vegetation into functional types and derived plant spatial pattern attributes from field plot maps processed through a GIS system. We found that there was an inverse relationship between patch density and runoff, and that both runoff and sediment yields increased as the spatial pattern of vegetation coarsened. Vegetation pattern attributes and plant functional diversity were better related to runoff and sediment yield than soil surface properties. However, a significant relationship was found between physical crust cover and plant spatial pattern. Our results present empirical evidence for the direct relationship between the hydrologic functioning of semiarid lands and both the spatial pattern and the functional diversity of perennial vegetation, and suggest that plant spatial pattern, physical crust cover, and functional diversity may be linked through feedback mechanisms.