Spatial scale dependence of ecohydrologically mediated water balance partitioning: A synthesis framework for catchment ecohydrology
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The difficulties in predicting whole catchment water balance from observations at patch scales motivate a search for theories that can account for the complexity of interactions in catchments. In this paper we suggest that the spatial patterns of vegetation may offer a lens through which to investigate scale dependence of hydrology within catchments. Vegetation patterns are attractive because they are observable drivers of evapotranspiration, often a dominant component in catchment water balance, and because the spatial distribution of vegetation is often driven by patterns of water availability. We propose that nontrivial, scale‐dependent spatial patterns in both vegetation distribution and catchment water balance are generated by the presence of a convergent network of flow paths and a two‐way feedback between vegetation as a driver of evapotranspiration and vegetation distribution as a signature of water availability. Implementing this hypothesis via a simple network model demonstrated that such organization was controlled by catchment properties related to aridity, the network topology, the sensitivity of the vegetation response to water availability, and the point‐scale controls on partitioning between evapotranspiration and lateral drainage. The resulting self‐organization generated spatial dependence in areally averaged hydrologic variables, water balance, and parameters describing hydrological partitioning. This spatial scale dependence provides a theoretical approach to connect water balance at patch and catchment scales. Theoretical and empirical studies for understanding the controls of vegetation spatial distribution, point‐scale hydrological partitioning, and the implications of complex flow network topologies on the spatial scale dependence of catchment water balance are proposed as a research agenda for catchment ecohydrology.