Ecosystem Ecology - Original Paper


, Volume 158, Issue 3, pp 545-555

First online:

Form and function of grass ring patterns in arid grasslands: the role of abiotic controls

  • Sujith RaviAffiliated withB2 Earthscience and UA Biosphere 2, University of ArizonaDepartment of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia Email author 
  • , Paolo D’OdoricoAffiliated withDepartment of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia
  • , Lixin WangAffiliated withDepartment of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University
  • , Scott CollinsAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of New Mexico

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Ring-shaped growth patterns commonly occur in resource-limited arid and semi-arid environments. The spatial distribution, geometry, and scale of vegetation growth patterns result from interactions between biotic and abiotic processes, and, in turn, affect the spatial patterns of soil moisture, sediment transport, and nutrient dynamics in aridland ecosystems. Even though grass ring patterns are observed worldwide, a comprehensive understanding of the biotic and abiotic processes that lead to the formation, growth and breakup of these rings is still lacking. Our studies on patterns of infiltration and soil properties of blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) grass rings in the northern Chihuahuan desert indicate that ring patterns result from the interaction between clonal growth mechanisms and abiotic factors such as hydrological and aeolian processes. These processes result in a negative feedback between sediment deposition and vegetation growth inside the bunch grass, which leads to grass die back at the center of the grass clump. We summarize these interactions in a simple theoretical and conceptual model that integrates key biotic and abiotic processes in ring formation, growth and decline.


Aeolian processes Arid ecosystems Ecohydrology Infiltration Soil moisture