Coupling vegetation organization patterns to soil resource heterogeneity in a central Kenyan dryland using geophysical imagery

Trenton E. Franz, Elizabeth G. King, Kelly K. Caylor, David A. Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


In dryland ecosystems, understanding the effects of heterogeneity in soil moisture and geophysical properties on vegetation structure and dynamics poses a suite of challenging research questions. Heterogeneity in soil depth can affect resource availability and the subsequent organization of woody vegetation, while spatiotemporal variation in soil moisture can reveal important ecohydrological feedbacks that govern the outcome of anthropogenic activities on the organization of dryland vegetation. In this research we investigate two cases of soil resource heterogeneity that affect the organization of dryland vegetation patterns by expanding previous electromagnetic induction (EMI) imaging techniques. In the first case we examine the influence of soil depth as a control on soil resource availability on hillslopes in tree-grass systems in central Kenya. Our results indicate that woody vegetation clumping occurs where soil depth changes, and the deeper rooted Acacia tortilis occurs on deep soils while the drought tolerant Acacia etbaica occurs on shallow soils. In the second case we examine daily patch-interpatch scale moisture dynamics following two different-sized rain events in a degraded landscape. With the aid of a numerical subsurface flow model, EMI, and soil moisture data, we have identified a possible positive feedback mechanism ("soil moisture halo effect") that we believe may have contributed to the proliferation and two-phase pattern formation of a native succulent Sansevieria volkensii in degraded ecosystems of Kenya. By determining how different plants respond to, and modify, the soil environment, we can better understand resource capture and dynamics, which in the longterm will help to develop management strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberW07531
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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