Consequences of Widespread Piñon Mortality for Water Availability and Water Use Dynamics in Piñon-Juniper Woodlands

Monday, 15 December 2014: 4:45 PM
Laura Morillas1, Robert E Pangle2, Daniel J Krofcheck1, William Pockman2 and Marcy E Litvak1, (1)University of New Mexico Main Campus, Albuquerque, NM, United States, (2)Univ New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, United States
Tree die-off events have showed a rapid increase in the last decade as a result of warmer temperatures and more severe drought. In the southwestern US, where piñon-juniper (PJ) woodlands occupy 24 million ha, the turn of the century drought (1999-2002) triggered 40-95% mortality of piñon pine (Pinus edulis) and 2-25% mortality of juniper (Juniperous monosperma). To determine the consequences of this disturbance on surface water balance we conducted a girdling experiment where all piñon trees above 7 cm of diameter at breast height in an area of 200 m2 were girdled in September 2009. We compared water and energy fluxes in this girdled site (PJG) using open-path eddy covariance (EC) to fluxes measured simultaneously in an intact PJ woodland less than 3 km away (PJC). In addition to evapotranspiration (ET) measurements from EC, canopy transpiration (ETc) was measured using sap flow probes (Granier thermal dissipation method) installed on five juniper and five piñon trees at each site. Soil water content (SWC) was also monitored using TDR probes (CS610, Campbell Scientific) under the three main cover types ( bare soil, under juniper and under piñon) and at three depths (5,10 and 30 cm depths) in both sites.

Total ET at PJG decreased slowly, but progressively, relative to PJC following the girdling, with annual ET 5%, 10% and 19% lower in 2010, 2011 and 2012, respectively, in the girdled site. Following the girdling, canopy transpiration was significantly reduced at PJG, with an observed reduction of annual ETc at PJG of 45%, 59% and 71% from 2010 to 2012 compared to the PJC site. Our results suggest that girdling triggered a significant increase of soil evaporation and understory transpiration (not directly measured) as a result of canopy cover loss. This agrees with significant higher establishment of annual forbs seen at PJG relative to PJC and the increase of solar radiation reaching the soil surface as a result of canopy cover loss. Our results suggest piñon mortality leaves PJ woodlands hotter and drier than intact PJ woodlands. Given the extent of mortality observed in these woodlands and the predicted increase in mortality expected over the next century, these results have important surface energy balance consequences for the Southwestern US.