JOBBAGY GAMPEL Esteban Gabriel
. Land use change and water losses: The case of grassland afforestation across a soil textural gradient in Central Argentina
Lugar: London; Año: 2005 vol. 11 p. 1101 - 1117
Vegetation changes, particularly those involving transitions between tree- and grass-dominated covers, often modify evaporative water losses as a result of plant-mediated shifts in moisture access and demand. Massive afforestation of native grasslands, particularly important in the Southern Hemisphere, may have strong yet poorly quantified effects on the hydrological cycle. We explored water use patterns in Eucalyptus grandis plantations and the native humid grasslands that they replace in Central Argentina. In order to uncover the interactive effects that land cover type, soil texture and climate variability may have on evaporative water losses and water use efficiency, we estimated daily evapotranspiration (ET) in 117 tree plantations and grasslands plots across a soil textural gradient (clay-textured Vertisols to sandy-textured Entisols) using radiometric information from seven Landsat scenes, existing timber productions records, and 13C measurements in tree stems. Tree plantations had cooler surface temperatures (−5°C on average) and evaporated more water (+80% on average) than grasslands at all times and across all sites. Absolute ET differences between grasslands and plantations ranged from ∼0.6 to 2 mm day−1 and annual up-scaling suggested values of ∼630 and ∼1150 mm yr−1 for each vegetation type, respectively. The temporal variability of ET was significantly lower in plantations compared with grasslands (coefficient of variation 36% vs. 49%). Daily ET increased as the water balance became more positive (accumulated balance for previous 18 days) with a saturation response in grassland vs. a continuous linear increase in plantations, suggesting lower ecophysiological limits to water loss in tree canopies compared with the native vegetation. Plantation ET was more strongly affected by soil texture than grassland ET and peaked in coarse textured sites followed by medium and fine textured sites. Timber productivity as well as 13C concentration in stems peaked in medium textured sites, indicating lower water use efficiency on extreme textures and suggesting that water limitation was not responsible for productivity declines towards finer and coarser soils. Our study highlighted the key role that vegetation type plays on evapotranspiration and, therefore, in the hydrological cycle. Considering that tree plantations may continue their expansion over grasslands, problematic changes in water management and, perhaps, in local climate can develop from the higher evaporative water losses of tree plantations.