, Volume 158, Issue 3, pp 545-555
Date: 15 Oct 2008

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

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Abstract

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.

Communicated by Alan Knapp.