An article authored by Ignacio Rodriguez-Iturbe, Kelly, and Andrea Rinaldo has just been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
A piece of research that originated all the way back during Kelly’s postdoc days has just been published as Ignacio’s inaugural article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The work demonstrates how the structure of river networks integrate the spatial heterogeneity in climate and subsequent variability in plant water use across a river basin. River networks act to divide regions into a series of sub basins that are connected and organized via the river network structure. The magnitude of any given basin is determined by the number of upstream links. We show that – despite the large variation in rainfall across the basin – that the average metabolic activity per unit area (estimated as the average plant transpiration rate) within an intermediate-sized basin is remarkably consistent across magnitudes. This finding suggests that despite the geographical heterogeneity observed within river basins there is remarkable consistency in the functional behavior of the network when it is viewed topologically (i.e. via the structure of the network). This result leads to some exciting conclusions regarding how ecological and climatological heterogeneity may impact (or not) the response of basins in terms of hydrological (i.e. metabolic) fluxes such as streamflow and evapotranspiration.