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Ecohydrologic relationships in two juniper woodlands with different precipitation regimes

TitleEcohydrologic relationships in two juniper woodlands with different precipitation regimes
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsOchoa, CG, Guldan, S, Deboodt, T, Fernald, A, Ray, G
Conference NameAmerican Geophysical Union - Fall Meeting
Date Published12/2015
Conference LocationSan Francisco, CA

The significant expansion of juniper (Juniperus spp.) woodlands throughout the western U.S. during the last two centuries has disrupted important ecological functions and hydrologic processes.  The relationships between water and vegetation distribution are highly impacted by the ongoing shift from shrub steppe and grassland to woodland-dominated landscapes.

We investigated vegetation dynamics and hydrologic processes occurring in two distinct juniper landscapes with different precipitation regimes in the Intermountain West region: A winter snow-dominated (Oregon) and a summer rain-dominated with some winter precipitation (New Mexico) landscape.

Results from the Oregon site showed marginal differences (1-2%) in soil moisture in treated vs untreated watersheds throughout the dry and wet seasons. In general, soil moisture was greater in the treated watershed in both seasons. Canopy cover affected soil moisture over time. Perennial grass cover was positively correlated with changes in soil moisture, whereas juniper cover was negatively correlated with changes in soil moisture. Shallow groundwater response observed in upland and valley monitoring wells indicate there are temporary hydrologic connections between upland and valley locations during the winter precipitation season.

Results from the New Mexico site provided valuable information regarding timing and intensity of monsoon-driven precipitation and the rainfall threshold (5 mm/15 min) that triggers runoff. Long-term vegetation dynamics and hydrologic processes were evaluated based on pre- and post-juniper removal (70%) in three watersheds. In general, less runoff and greater forage response was observed in the treated watersheds. During rainfall events, soil moisture was less under juniper canopy compared with inter-canopy; this difference in soil moisture was intensified during high intensity, short duration rainstorms in the summer months. We found that winter snow precipitation helped recharge soil moisture prior to plant growth in the springtime, but it did not generate streamflow.

Study results provide valuable information towards understanding ecohydrologic differences and similarities of woody vegetation expansion in semiarid areas on both sides of the continental divide in the Intermountain West.