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AOSC 662
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AOSC 662 - Ecohydrology


The vulnerability and resilience of ecosystems are dependent on phenomena that link the cycling of water, nutrients and other biogeochemically active elements. Understanding the perturbations in these cycles that trigger impacts on ecosystem spatiotemporal characteristics is a challenge that generally transcends disciplinary and geographical boundaries, and is key to sustaining the diversity of life on Earth. This course on ecohydrology focuses on the study of hydrologically-controlled ecosystems, e.g. systems in which either excess and/or deficit of water and nutrients are determinants of its structure and function. Such systems have complex dynamic characteristics that depend on many interrelated links between climate, soil and vegetation. Ecohydrology, focusing on the mechanics of climate-soil-vegetation interactions, is one of the most exciting scientific frontiers at the start of the 21st century, embracing problems that are crucial to the understanding of biodiversity and the environment. For instance, vegetation exerts important controls on the water and nutrient balances of ecosystems and is responsible for many feedbacks to the atmosphere. At the same time, climate and soil have a key influence on patterns of vegetation distribution. Vegetation plays a special role in hydrologically-controlled ecosystems: plant physiological processes condition the water and nutrient balances of the system. At the same time, plants are also impacted by the climate and hydrologic conditions they contribute to produce. The links between water and nutrient availability in the soil, i.e., soil moisture and nutrient concentrations, and vegetation pose interactions of direct and indirect natures. Soil moisture and nutrient availability have direct impacts on the essential physiological processes of individual plants: transpiration, photosynthesis and biomass production. They also indirectly control many other vital aspects for vegetation such as absorption of nutrients and soil temperature. The availability of water and nutrients is also a driver for competition mechanisms between plants, whose differences in water use can produce complex spatial and temporal dynamics.

Course syllabus