The University of Arizona

Hydrologic responses of shortgrass prairie ecosystems.

L. Weltz, G. Frasier, M. Weltz


Runoff hydrographs from 3 separate rainfall simulation runs at 11 different shortgrass prairie sites were evaluated to determine the hydrologic similarity within a single ecosystem at widely separated sites. There were no consistent patterns in the equilibrium runoff among sites and simulator runs. When the sites were stratified by soil type, there were differences in time-to-peak of the runoff event and the regression slope of the rising limb of the runoff ratios. Spearman's rank correlation showed no relation of the rising limb slope regression coefficient to measured vegetative characteristics across all sites. There was minimal correlation between the runoff regression coefficient and the percent cover and bare soil. Differences in the biotic components of the sites were not useful in predicting runoff characteristics. If equilibrium runoff was the measured hydrologic response, the sites were dissimilar. Using the time-to-peak and slope of the rising limb components of the runoff hydrograph, the sites were similar on the same soil type. The technique of comparing components of the runoff hydrograph, other than equilibrium runoff has promise to allow one to quickly compare responses among ecosystems to determine if they have similar hydrological functions. Our study on shortgrass prairie sites indicated that easily estimated factors such as biomass, cover and litter were not good indicators of hydrologic function. Also, it is necessary to identify which portion of the runoff event is most important in the assessment. Future hydrologic and erosion models need to develop nonlinear prediction equations to estimate infiltration rates as a function of cover, biomass, and soil properties and also to stratify soils into functional units to accurately estimate runoff rates.



loam soils;clay soils;steppe soils;range condition;rain;South Dakota;runoff;sandy loam soils;rainfall simulators;Texas;prairies;biomass;plant litter;rangelands;canopy;New Mexico;Colorado

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