Modeling Elevation and Aspect Controls on Emerging Ecohydrologic Processes and Ecosystem Patterns Using the Component-based Landlab Framework

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Sai Siddhartha Nudurupati, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, United States, Erkan Istanbulluoglu, Univ of Washington, Seattle, WA, United States, Jordan Marie Adams, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA, United States, Daniel E. J. Hobley, Univ of Colorado, Boulder, CO, United States, Nicole M Gasparini, Tulane University of Louisiana, New Orleans, LA, United States, Gregory E Tucker, Univ Colorado, Boulder, CO, United States and Eric W.H. Hutton, Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System, Boulder, CO, United States
Topography plays a commanding role on the organization of ecohydrologic processes and resulting vegetation patterns. In southwestern United States, climate conditions lead to terrain aspect- and elevation-controlled ecosystems, with mesic north-facing and xeric south-facing vegetation types; and changes in biodiversity as a function of elevation from shrublands in low desert elevations, to mixed grass/shrublands in mid elevations, and forests at high elevations and ridge tops. These observed patterns have been attributed to differences in topography-mediated local soil moisture availability, micro-climatology, and life history processes of plants that control chances of plant establishment and survival. While ecohydrologic models represent local vegetation dynamics in sufficient detail up to sub-hourly time scales, plant life history and competition for space and resources has not been adequately represented in models. In this study we develop an ecohydrologic cellular automata model within the Landlab component-based modeling framework. This model couples local vegetation dynamics (biomass production, death) and plant establishment and competition processes for resources and space. This model is used to study the vegetation organization in a semiarid New Mexico catchment where elevation and hillslope aspect play a defining role on plant types. Processes that lead to observed plant types across the landscape are examined by initializing the domain with randomly assigned plant types and systematically changing model parameters that couple plant response with soil moisture dynamics. Climate perturbation experiments are conducted to examine the plant response in space and time. Understanding the inherently transient ecohydrologic systems is critical to improve predictions of climate change impacts on ecosystems.