Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 73, Issue 3, pp 237-251

First online:

Spatial Patterns of Soil Moisture as Affected by Shrubs, in Different Climatic Conditions

  • Sarah ParienteAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, Bar-Ilan University

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At three study sites, representing Mediterranean, semi-aridand mildly-arid climatic conditions, the effect of shrubs onthe spatial patterns of soil moisture was studied. At eachsite soil moisture was measured, on hillslopes, at thevicinity of 8 shrubs. For each shrub the measurements havebeen taken at 3 microenvironments, i.e. under the shrub (US),at the margins of shrub (MS) and between shrubs (BS). At themicroenvironments US and MS the measurements were taken at 3 directions: upslope, downslope and sideslope of the shrubs. At all sampling points soil samples were taken from 3 depths: 0–2, 2–5 and 5–10 cm. In addition, rock fragments cover percentage near the shrubs was determined. A soil moisture pattern was found, around each shrub,which is composed of a radial gradient and a downslope gradient. The radial gradient is expressed by soil moisture decreasingfrom the US microenvironment, in all directions, through the MS towards the BS microenvironment. The US microenvironmenthas a `spatial advantage' of higher soil moisture content dueto (1) relatively higher infiltration rate, (2) capture overlandflow from the BS area upslope that shrub and (3) low evaporationrate because of the shading effect.The downslope gradient is expressed by decreasing soil moisturefrom the upslope direction of each shrub (MS and US microenvironments) towards the downslope direction of that shrub (MS and US microenvironments, respectively). Thisgradient is controlled by the relatively high content of rockfragments near the shrubs at their upslope direction. Suchrock fragments spatial distribution is attributed to (1) thedetachment and transport of rock fragments by sheep and goatstrampling and (2) the effect of shrub on the continuity ofoverland flow and sediment transport. The effect of rockfragments is similar to that of shrubs regarding increasinginfiltration and decreasing evaporation rate. The relativelyhigh soil moisture at the upslope direction of each shrubenhances annuals growth producing a positive feedback loop:soil moisture – annuals growth – trampling. This sequencemaintains the typical rock fragments spatial organization andcontributes to the sustainability of the grazing system.At all the study sites at the US microenvironment there isa trend of decreasing soil moisture with increasing soildepth. At microenvironments MS and BS soil moisture increaseswith soil depth.The results are of great relevance for rehabilitationstrategies as they suggest that in order to combatdesertification in degraded semi-arid and mildly-arid areas,where the main land use is grazing, both shrubs and rockfragment should be kept at their present spatial distribution.

climatic regions rock fragments shrub soil moisture spatial patterns