Research ArticleGEOLOGY

Decadal-scale shifts in soil hydraulic properties as induced by altered precipitation

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Science Advances  11 Sep 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 9, eaau6635
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aau6635


Soil hydraulic properties influence the partitioning of rainfall into infiltration versus runoff, determine plant-available water, and constrain evapotranspiration. Although rapid changes in soil hydraulic properties from direct human disturbance are well documented, climate change may also induce such shifts on decadal time scales. Using soils from a 25-year precipitation manipulation experiment, we found that a 35% increase in water inputs substantially reduced infiltration rates and modestly increased water retention. We posit that these shifts were catalyzed by greater pore blockage by plant roots and reduced shrink-swell cycles. Given that precipitation regimes are expected to change at accelerating rates globally, shifts in soil structure could occur over broad regions more rapidly than expected and thus alter water storage and movement in numerous terrestrial ecosystems.

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