Dry periods influence the ecohydrology of the rainforest


Climate change and deforestation influence the rainfall patterns in the tropics, thereby increasing the risk of drought-induced forest-to-savanna transitions. Forest ecosystems respond to these changing environmental conditions by adapting various drought coping strategies driven by different magnitudes of water-stress (i.e., defined here as a deficit in soil water availability inhibiting plant growth due to change in rainfall patterns).

A better understanding of forest dynamics in response to the water-stress conditions is, therefore, crucial to determine the rainforest’s present ecohydrological conditions, as well as project a possible rainforest-savanna transition scenario. However, our present understanding of such transitions is entirely based on rainfall, which does not consider the adaptability of vegetation to droughts by utilizing subsoil moisture in a quantifiable metric. Using remote-sensing derived root zone storage capacity (<i>S</i>r) and tree cover, we analyze the water-stress and drought coping strategies of the rainforest-savanna ecosystems in South America and Africa.

The results from our empirical and statistical analysis allows us to classify the ecosystem's adaptability to droughts into four key classes of drought coping strategies: lowly water-stressed forest (shallow roots, high tree cover), moderately water-stressed forest (investing in <i>S</i>r, high tree cover), highly water-stressed forest (trade-off between investments in <i>S</i>r and tree cover) and savanna-grassland regime (competitive rooting strategy, low tree cover).

This study concludes that the ecosystems' responses are primarily focused on allocating carbon in the most efficient way possible to maximize their hydrological benefits. The insights from this study suggest remote sensing-based <i>S</i>r as an important indicator revealing important subsoil forest dynamics and opens new paths for understanding the ecohydrological state, resilience, and adaptation dynamics of the tropical ecosystems under a rapidly changing climate.


Link to centre authors: Singh, Chandrakant
Publication info: Singh, C., Wang-Erlandsson, L., Fetzer, I., Rockstrom, J., van der Ent, R.. 2021. Dry periods influence the ecohydrology of the rainforest. Earth and Space Science Open Archive, http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/essoar.10509057.1