On the Vulnerability of Water Limited Ecosystems to Climate Change

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Manfreda S. and Caylor K.K., 2013. “On the Vulnerability of Water Limited Ecosystems to Climate Change.” Water 5, no. 2: 819-833, doi:10.3390/w5020819

Society is facing growing environmental problems that require new research efforts to understand the way ecosystems operate and survive, and their mutual relationships with the hydrologic cycle. In this respect, ecohydrology suggests a renewed interdisciplinary approach that aims to provide a better comprehension of the effects of climatic changes on terrestrial ecosystems. With this aim, a coupled hydrological/ecological model is adopted to describe simultaneously vegetation pattern evolution and hydrological water budget at the basin scale using as test site the Upper Rio Salado basin (Sevilleta, NM, USA). The hydrological analyses have been carried out using a recently formulated framework for the water balance at the daily level linked with a spatial model for the description of the spatial organization of vegetation. This enables quantitatively assessing the effects on soil water availability on future climatic scenarios. Results highlighted that the relationship between climatic forcing (water availability) and vegetation patterns is strongly non-linear. This implies, under some specific conditions which depend on the ecosystem characteristics, small changes in climatic conditions may produce significant transformation of the vegetation patterns.

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