Climate models predict that water limited regions around the world will become drier and warmer in the near future, including southwestern North America. We developed a large-scale experimental system that allows testing of the ecosystem impacts of precipitation changes. Four treatments were applied to 1600 m2 plots (40 m × 40 m), each with three replicates in a piñon pine (Pinus edulis) and juniper (Juniper monosperma) ecosystem. These species have extensive root systems, requiring large-scale manipulation to effectively alter soil water availability. Treatments consisted of: 1) irrigation plots that receive supplemental water additions, 2) drought plots that receive 55% of ambient rainfall, 3) cover-control plots that receive ambient precipitation, but allow determination of treatment infrastructure artifacts, and 4) ambient control plots. Our drought structures effectively reduced soil water potential and volumetric water content compared to the ambient, cover-control, and water addition plots. Drought and cover control plots experienced an average increase in maximum soil and air temperature at ground level of 1-4° C during the growing season compared to ambient plots, and concurrent short-term diurnal increases in maximum air temperature were also observed directly above and below plastic structures. Our drought and irrigation treatments significantly influenced tree predawn water potential, sap-flow, and net photosynthesis, with drought treatment trees exhibiting significant decreases in physiological function compared to ambient and irrigated trees. Supplemental irrigation resulted in a significant increase in both plant water potential and xylem sap-flow compared to trees in the other treatments. This experimental design effectively allows manipulation of plant water stress at the ecosystem scale, permits a wide range of drought conditions, and provides prolonged drought conditions comparable to historical droughts in the past – drought events for which wide-spread mortality in both these species was observed.
Site DescriptionIn total, our study site consisted of 12 experimental plots located in three replicate blocks that varied in slope % and aspect. The study utilized four different experimental treatments applied in three replicate blocks. The four experimental treatments included;1) un-manipulated, ambient control plots, 2) drought plots, 3) supplemental irrigation plots, and 4) cover-control plots that have a similar infrastructure to the drought plots, but remove no precipitation. The three replicated blocks differed in their slope and aspect. One block of four plots was located on south facing slopes, one on north facing slopes, and one in a flat area of the landscape.
Experimental Treatment Design (see Pangle et al. 2012 for detailed methodology)
To effectively reduce water availability to trees, we installed treatments of sufficient size to minimize tree water uptake from outside of the plot. Thus, we constructed three replicated drought structures that were 40 m × 40 m (1600 m2). We targeted a 50% reduction in ambient precipitation through water removal troughs that covered ~50% of the land surface area. Drought plot infrastructure was positioned to insure that targeted Piñon pine and juniper were centrally located within each drought plot to provide the maximum distance between tree stems and the nearest plot boundary. Each drought and cover-control plot consists of 27 parallel troughs running across the 40 m plot. Each trough was constructed with overlapping 3ft ×10 ft (0.91 m × 3.05 m) pieces of thermoplastic polymer sheets (Makloron SL Polycarbonate Sheet, Sheffield Plastics Inc, Sheffield, MA) fixed with self-tapping metal screws to horizontal rails that are approximately waist height and are supported by vertical posts every 2.5-3.5 m. The plastic sheets were bent into a concave shape to collect and divert the precipitation off of the plot. The bending and spacing of the plastic resulted in 0.81 m (32 in) troughs separated by 0.56 m (22 in) walkways. Individual troughs often intersected the canopy of trees because of their height. The troughs were installed as close to the bole of the tree as possible without damaging branches in order to maximize the area covered by the plastic across the entire plot. An end-cap was attached to the downstream edge of the trough to prevent water from falling onto the base of the tree. A piece of 3 in (7.62 cm) PVC pipe or suction hose (used when the bole of a tree was directly below trough) was then attached to the downstream side of the end-cap, enabling water to flow into the trough on the other side of a tree. End-caps were also placed at the downhill end of the troughs on the edge of the plot and fitted with 90 degree fittings to divert water down into a 30 cm2 gutter (open on top) that ran perpendicular to the plot. Collected water was then channeled from the gutter into adjacent arroyos for drainage away from the study area.
We built cover-control infrastructures to investigate the impact of the plastic drought structures independent of changes in precipitation. This was necessary because of the high radiation environment in central New Mexico, in which the clear plastic troughs can effectively act as a greenhouse structure. The cover-control treatment had the same dimensions as the drought plots with one key difference. The plastic was attached to the rails in a convex orientation so precipitation would fall on top of the plastic and then drain directly down onto the plot. The cover-control plots were designed to receive the same amount of precipitation as un-manipulated ambient plots, with the precipitation falling and draining into the walkways between the rows of troughs. Cover-control plots were constructed between June-21-07 and July-24-07; drought plots were constructed between August-09-07 and August-27-07. The total plastic coverage in each plot is 45% ± 1% of the 1600 m2 plot area due to the variable terrain and canopy cover. Our irrigation system consisted of above-canopy sprinkler nozzles configured to deliver supplemental rainstorm event(s) at a rate of 19 mm hr-1. Our irrigation system is a modified design of the above-canopy irrigation system outlined by Munster et al. (2006). Each of the three irrigation plots has three 2750 gal (10.41 m3) water storage tanks connected in parallel. These tanks were filled with filtered reverse osmosis (RO) water brought to the site with multiple tractor-trailer trucks. During irrigation events, water is pumped from the tanks through a series of hoses attached to 16 equally-spaced sprinklers within the plot. Each sprinkler is 6.1 m (20 ft) tall (2-3 m higher than mean tree height), and fitted with a sprinkler nozzle that creates an even circular distribution of water with a radius of 5 m on the ground. The irrigation systems were tested in October 2007 (2 mm supplemental), and full applications (19 mm) were applied in 2008 on 24-June, 15-July, and 26-August. During subsequent years (2009-2012), a total of four to six irrigation events (19mm each) were applied (please contact Will Pockman and/or Robert Pangle for specific application dates and rates).
Site Abiotic Monitoring (please see Pangle et al. 2012 for more detailed methodology)We used Campbell Scientific dataloggers to continuously monitor and record abiotic conditions and physiological measurements across the site. All systems were connected to a solar-powered wireless network with NL100 relays (Campbell Scientific, Logan, UT). Plots were instrumented with CR-1000, CR-7, and CR-10X dataloggers (Campbell Scientific, Logan, UT). Each CR-1000 datalogger was accompanied by AM25T and AM 16/32 multiplexers to expand sensor measurement capacity (Campbell Scientific, Logan, UT). Abiotic conditions were measured under each cover type (n=3-5 locations per cover type): under piñon, juniper, and intercanopy areas between trees. These measurements included; a) soil temperature (TS) at –5 cm depth and shielded air temperature (TA) at 10 cm (above soil surface), both measured with 24 gauge Type–T thermocouples (Omega, Stamford, CT), b) shallow soil volumetric water content (VWC) at –5 cm measured using EC-20 ECH2O probes (Decagon, Pullman, WA), and c) soil VWC at depth using EC-5 soil moisture probes (Decagon, Pullman, WA). Soil VWC profiles had sensors installed at –15 cm, –20 cm, and as deep as possible (down to –100 cm, depending on soil conditions).
Data processing and QA-QC were performed using either Matlab (The Mathworks, Inc.) or Microsoft Office 2010 Excel (Microsoft Corporation) software. All raw and/or processed data traces were visually plotted and inspected for noisy, erroneous, or out of range data points or sensors traces. All removed data points had a “NaN” value assigned. Despite this QA-QC review and data cleaning, all data sets should still be evaluated for outliers, etc., as standard outlier statistical tests were not performed.