A rainout shelter design for intercepting different amounts of rainfall
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Field manipulative experiments represent a straightforward way to explore temporal relationships between annual precipitation and productivity. Water exclusion usually involves the use of rainout shelters, which are in general formed by a complete roof that intercepts 100% of the rainfall and require complicated mechanisms to move the shelter into place. The rainout-shelter design described here is a fixed-location shelter with a roof consisting of bands of transparent acrylic that blocks different amounts of rainfall while minimally affecting other environmental variables. We constructed thirty 3.76-m2 shelters in an arid steppe near Río Mayo, Argentina (at 45°41′S, 70°16′W), to impose 30%, 55%, and 80% of rainfall interception. We tested the effectiveness of the design by collecting all the intercepted water in storage tanks and we evaluated changes in soil water content with the time domain reflectometry technique. We also measured soil water content in regular grids to assess the magnitude of the edge effect. We analysed the microclimate impact of the shelters by measuring photosynthetically active radiation and air and soil temperature inside and outside shelters. We did not detect significant differences between the observed and the expected rainfall interception for the 30% and 55% interception treatments but the 80% shelters intercepted 71% of incoming rainfall, which was significantly (P<0.05) lower than the expected value. Soil water content was significantly (P<0.05) higher in the control plots than in the plots with rainout shelter at all dates, except in January (summer). Radiation was not affected by the 30% interception treatment, but the roof with the largest number of acrylics bands (80% interception treatment) reduced incident radiation throughout the day by 10%. Air and soil temperatures were lower under than outside the shelters during the period of highest radiation but the opposite occurred with low radiation but with smaller differences. The two characteristics of the shelter, fixed design and low cost, allow for proper replication in space, which is required in ecological field experiments.
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