Hydrologic response to precipitation pulses under and between shrubs in the Chihuahuan Desert, Arizona
Observations of the temporal and spatial distribution of poststorm soil moisture in open shrublands and savannas are limited, yet they are critical to understanding the interaction and feedback between moisture distribution and canopies. The objective of this analysis was to study the hydrologic impacts of precipitation pulses on the upper layer of soils under and between shrubs. The study was based on measurements of precipitation, runoff, and under-and between-shrub soil moisture over a period of 20 years (1990-2009) at a shrub-dominated site in the Walnut Gulch Experimental Watershed (WGEW) near Tombstone, Arizona. Within much of the root zone (to 30 cm depth), infiltration was not significantly different under versus between shrubs, and the under: between infiltration ratio was not related to pulse size or intensity. However, root-zone soil moisture was significantly higher between shrubs than under shrubs. The soil moisture measured at the surface (at 5 cm depth) was not consistently different under and between shrubs, but the soil moisture measured at depths of 15 and 30 cm were both significantly higher between shrubs than under shrubs. Considering mechanisms that explain the interaction between plants and soil moisture, we found no differences in infiltration, evaporative losses, and surface soil moisture in locations under and between shrubs. This led to the conclusion that lower root-zone soil moisture under shrubs was due largely to greater root density under shrubs than between shrubs. This study adds to the understanding of the impact of precipitation patterns on infiltration and soil moisture in shrub-dominated sites and the potential for vegetation change in arid and semiarid lands.