Climate Variability and Ecohydrology of Seasonally Dry Ecosystems

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Feng, Xue


Porporato, Amilcare

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Seasonally dry ecosystems cover large areas over the world, have high potential for carbon sequestration, and harbor high levels of biodiversity. They are characterized by high rainfall variability at timescales ranging from the daily to the seasonal to the interannual, and water availability and timing play key roles in primary productivity, biogeochemical cycles, phenology of growth and reproduction, and agricultural production. In addition, a growing demand for food and other natural resources in these regions renders seasonally dry ecosystems increasingly vulnerable to human interventions. Compounded with changes in rainfall regimes due to climate change, there is a need to better understand the role of climate variabilities in these regions to pave the way for better management of existing infrastructure and investment into future adaptations.

In this dissertation, the ecohydrological responses of seasonally dry ecosystem to climate variabilities are investigated under a comprehensive framework. This is achieved by first developing diagnostic tools to quantify the degree of rainfall seasonality across different types of seasonal climates, including tropical dry, Mediterranean, and monsoon climates. This global measure of seasonality borrows from information theory and captures the essential contributions from both the magnitude and concentration of the rainy season. By decomposing the rainfall signal from seasonality hotspots, increase in the interannual variability of rainfall seasonality is found, accompanied by concurrent changes in the magnitude, timing, and durations of seasonal rainfall, suggesting that increase in the uncertainty of seasonal rainfall may well extend into the next century. Next, changes in the hydrological partitioning, and the temporal responses of vegetation resulting from these climate variabilities, are analyzed using a set of stochastic models that accounts for the unpredictability rainfall as well as its seasonal trajectories. Soil water storage is found to play a pivotal role in regulating seasonal soil water hysteresis, and the balance between seasonal soil water availability and growth duration is found to induce maximum plant growth for a given amount of annual rainfall. Finally, these methods are applied in the context of biodiversity and the interplay of irrigation and soil salinity, which are prevailing management issues in seasonally dry ecosystems.





Feng, Xue (2015). Climate Variability and Ecohydrology of Seasonally Dry Ecosystems. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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