Soils in semi-arid landscapes can vary over very small distances, with a great deal of variation associated with 'resource islands' created and maintained by woody vegetation. The distinct physical and hydraulic properties that arise in these islands can lead to spatial patterns of infiltration that have been implicated in the maintenance of the vegetation populating the island. Less well understood are the roles that the small-scale variability in soils plays in determining the transport of sediments, water and sediment-bound carbon and nitrogen across hillslopes. Here we explore these relationships using a coupled field and modeling approach. Detailed field data from hillslopes underlain by both granite and schist parent materials in the Santa Catalina mountains (part of the JSC Critical Zone Observatory) suggest that soils under individual velvet mesquite (latin name) contain higher concentration of soil organic matter and have higher hydraulic conductivity and water holding capacity. Greater infiltration and increased roughness under the canopy appears to lead to the formation of mounds that alter overland flow lines around the area under the canopy, particularly in the finer schist soils. This diversion leads to a complex distribution of shear stresses across the hillslope, creating systematic patterns in the transport of carbon and nitrogen rich soils under the canopies. The relationship between the small scale mechanism and the emergent pattern dynamics in the temporal variability of materials delivered to the stream from the hillslope are also examined, and the implications of these results for the modeling of water, sediment and nutrient fluxes at hillslope scales will be discussed.
Harman, C.J., Troch, P.A., Lohse, K.A., Sivapalan, M. (2011): Co-evolution of Vegetation, Sediment Transport and Infiltration on semi-arid hillslopes . AGU Fall Meeting Presentations (Poster) Abstract B33G-0555..