Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Texas surprise: When trees, shrubs replace grasses, water flows can increase

05.03.2010
Contrary to prevailing wisdom, the takeover of rangelands by trees and shrubs can increase flows of streams and recharging of groundwater, a new study shows. The soon-to-be published analysis of many decades of historical records for four central Texas river basins challenges widespread perceptions that woody plants have the opposite effects on streams and aquifers.

The researchers found evidence that, from around 1890 to 1960, overgrazing and resultant soil degradation, not encroachment by woody plants, were the main culprits behind reductions in streamflows and recharging of groundwater in the semiarid central region known as the Edwards Plateau. The region is the primary water source for the Edwards Aquifer, which supplies the city of San Antonio and numerous smaller municipalities.

Large numbers of cattle, sheep, and goats that continuously grazed the area's rangelands led to widespread soil degradation, partly hindering the amount of water recharging springs and groundwater, says hydrologist Bradford Wilcox of Texas A&M University and Texas AgriLife Research, in College Station, Texas.

He and Yun Huang, a former graduate student at Texas A&M, will publish their results in an upcoming issue of Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

From 1880 to 1900, there were more animals on the land than it could support, Wilcox says. For a short period of time near the turn of the last century, stocking rates were 10 times greater than current levels. Since the late 1900s, however, as fewer cattle and other livestock were used on the land for agricultural production, the region has gone through revitalization.

"As a result, these landscapes are recovering, but they've also converted to woody plants," Wilcox notes. "We're also seeing large-scale increases in the amount of spring flows. This is opposite of what everybody is presuming -[which is that] the trees are there sucking up all of this water. The trees are actually allowing the water to infiltrate."

In fact, spring flows are twice as high as they were prior to 1950, he adds.

"This area was basically converted from grassland to shrubland after many years of heavy livestock grazing. What people have forgotten is that in the time period between healthy grasslands and the current shrublands, there was an extended period when the land was quite degraded. Subsequent to 1960, livestock numbers have declined and the landscape has recovered although there are now more cedar than in the past," Wilcox explains.

In the new study, he and Huang, who is now with LBG Guyton, in Austin, assess the hydrological changes that have taken place in the region as patterns of land use and vegetation changed. To do so, the researchers analyzed annual measurements dating back to 1925, or earlier, for the Nueces, Frio, Guadulupe, and Llano rivers. The measurements provide an annual record of 'baseflow,' or flow derived from groundwater only (i.e. springs) and of 'stormflow' or flow resulting from rainfall, for those rivers.

The scientists report that the total flow in the three of the four rivers has gone up in recent decades, "largely because contributions in the form of baseflow have increased." The baseflow of the fourth river also increased, although its total flow did not. Yet, rainfall in the region hasn't changed significantly.

Although the prevailing wisdom has been that proliferation of woody plants stifles infiltration of water back into aquifers, the new results suggest otherwise.

Moreover, the results have implications beyond the Edwards Plateau, Wilcox and Huang maintain, applying in general to "semiarid and subhumid rangelands in which springs and intermittent or perennial streams are found." For such regions, the transition to woody plants appears to be good news for regional water resources.

Images:
Photos of rangeland on the Edwards Plateau in degraded and recovering states, plus a map of the four studied river basins (and captions) are available for download with AGU's posted press release at:

http://www.agu.org/news/press/pr_archives/2010/2010-06.shtml

Title:
"Woody Plant Encroachment Paradox: Rivers Rebound as Degraded Grasslands Convert to Woodlands"
Authors:
Bradford P. Wilcox and Yun Huang, Ecosystem Science and Management, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA.
Contact information for authors:
Brad Wilcox, Professor, Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, 979-458-1899, bwilcox@tamu.edu
AGU Contact:
Peter Weiss
+1 (202) 777 7507
pweiss@agu.org
Texas A&M Contact:
Blair Fannin
+1 (979) 845-2259
b-fannin@tamu.edu

Peter Weiss | American Geophysical Union
Further information:
http://www.agu.org

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht NASA sees the end of ex-Tropical Cyclone 02W
21.04.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht New research unlocks forests' potential in climate change mitigation
21.04.2017 | Clemson University

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

Im Focus: Quantum-physical Model System

Computer-assisted methods aid Heidelberg physicists in reproducing experiment with ultracold atoms

Two researchers at Heidelberg University have developed a model system that enables a better understanding of the processes in a quantum-physical experiment...

Im Focus: Glacier bacteria’s contribution to carbon cycling

Glaciers might seem rather inhospitable environments. However, they are home to a diverse and vibrant microbial community. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they play a bigger role in the carbon cycle than previously thought.

A new study, now published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shows how microbial communities in melting glaciers contribute to the Earth’s carbon cycle, a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New quantum liquid crystals may play role in future of computers

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A promising target for kidney fibrosis

21.04.2017 | Health and Medicine

Light rays from a supernova bent by the curvature of space-time around a galaxy

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>