Eco-hydrologic Modeling of Rangelands: Evaluating a New Carbon Allocation Approach and Simulating Ecosystem Response to Changing Climate and Management Conditions

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Julian J Reyes, Washington State University, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Pullman, WA, United States, Christina (Naomi) Tague, UC Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA, United States, Janet Sue Choate, UCSB, Costa Mesa, CA, United States and Jennifer C Adam, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, United States
More than one-third of the United States’ land cover is comprised of rangelands, which support both forage production and livestock grazing. For grasses in both semi-arid and humid environments, small changes in precipitation and temperature, as well as grazing, can have disproportionately larger impacts on ecosystem processes. For example, these areas may experience large response pulses under highly variable precipitation and other potential future changes. The ultimate goal of this study is to provide information on the interactions between management activities, climate and ecosystem processes to inform sustainable rangeland management. The specific objectives of this paper are to (1) evaluate a new carbon allocation strategy for grasses and (2) test the sensitivity of this improved strategy to changes in climate and grazing strategies.

The Regional Hydro-ecologic Simulation System (RHESSys) is a process-based, watershed-scale model that simulates hydrology and biogeochemical cycling with dynamic soil and vegetation modules. We developed a new carbon allocation algorithm for partitioning net primary productivity (NPP) between roots and leaves for grasses. The ‘hybrid’ approach represents a balance between preferential partitioning due to environmental conditions and age-related growth. We evaluated this new allocation scheme at the point-scale at a variety of rangeland sites in the U.S. using observed biomass measurements and against existing allocation schemes used in RHESSys. Additionally, changes in the magnitude, frequency, and intensity of precipitation and temperature were used to assess ecosystem responses using our new allocation scheme. We found that changes in biomass and NPP were generally more sensitive to changes in precipitation than changes in temperature. At more arid sites, larger percent reductions in historic baseline precipitation affected biomass and NPP more negatively. We incorporated grazing impacts through biomass removal. We found that the recovery of grasses to defoliation was governed primarily through the following parameters: (1) the daily to annual allocation of NPP and (2) the fractional storage of carbohydrates. The latter was more appropriate in balancing seasonal patterns of grazing with enough emergency storage of carbon for regrowth.