Modeling the eco-hydrologic response of a Mediterranean type ecosystem to the combined impacts of projected climate change and altered fire frequencies
Global Climate Models (GCMs) project moderate warming along with increases in atmospheric CO2 for California Mediterranean type ecosystems (MTEs). In water-limited ecosystems, vegetation acts as an important control on streamflow and responds to soil moisture availability. Fires are also key disturbances in semi-arid environments, and few studies have explored the potential interactions among changes in climate, vegetation dynamics, hydrology, elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations and fire. We model ecosystem productivity, evapotranspiration, and summer streamflow under a range of temperature and precipitation scenarios using RHESSys, a spatially distributed model of carbon–water interactions. We examine the direct impacts of temperature and precipitation on vegetation productivity and impacts associated with higher water-use efficiency under elevated atmospheric CO2. Results suggest that for most climate scenarios, biomass in chaparral-dominated systems is likely to increase, leading to reductions in summer streamflow. However, within the range of GCM predictions, there are some scenarios in which vegetation may decrease, leading to higher summer streamflows. Changes due to increases in fire frequency will also impact summer streamflow but these will be small relative to changes due to vegetation productivity. Results suggest that monitoring vegetation responses to a changing climate should be a focus of climate change assessment for California MTEs.