A current ecohydrological challenge is quantifying the exact nature of carbon (C) and water couplings across landscapes. An emerging framework of understanding places plant physiological processes as a central control over soil respiration, the largest source of CO2 to the atmosphere. In dry montane forests, spatial and temporal variability in forest physiological processes are governed by hydrological patterns. Critical feedbacks involving respiration, moisture supply and tree physiology are poorly understood and must be quantified at the landscape level to better predict carbon cycle implications of regional drought under future climate change. We present data from an experiment designed to capture landscape variability in key coupled hydrological and C processes in forests of Colorado’s Front Range. Sites encompass three catchments within the Boulder Creek watershed, range from 1480 m to 3021 m above sea level and are co-located with the DOE Niwot Ridge Ameriflux site and the Boulder Creek Critical Zone Observatory. Key hydrological measurements (soil moisture, transpiration) are coupled with soil respiration measurements within each catchment at different landscape positions. This three-dimensional study design also allows for the examination of the role of water subsidies from uplands to lowlands in controlling respiration. Initial findings from 2012 reveal a moisture threshold response of the sensitivity of soil respiration to temperature. This threshold may derive from tree physiological responses to variation in moisture availability, which in turn is controlled by the persistence of snowpack. Using data collected in 2013, first, we determine whether respiration moisture thresholds represent triggers for transpiration at the individual tree level. Next, using stable isotope ratios of soil respiration and xylem and soil water, we compare the depths of respiration to depths of water uptake to assign tree vs. understory sources of respiration. This will help determine whether tree root-zone respiration exhibits a similar moisture threshold. Lastly, we examine whether moisture thresholds to temperature sensitivity are consistent across a range of snowpack persistence. Findings are compared to data collected from sites in Arizona and New Mexico to better establish the role of winter precipitation in governing growing season respiration rates. The outcome of this study will contribute to a better understanding of linkages among water, tree physiology, and soil respiration with the ultimate goal of scaling plot-level respiration fluxes to entire catchments.
Berryman E., Barnard H.R., Brooks P.D., Adams H., Burns M.A., Wilson W., Stielstra C.M. (2013): Coupled soil respiration and transpiration dynamics from tree-scale to catchment scale in dry Rocky Mountain pine forests and the role of snowpack. Abstract H23C-1279 presented at 2013 Fall Meeting, AGU, San Francisco, CA, 9-13 Dec..
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.