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The effects of soil organic matter on soil water retention and plant water use in a meadow of the Sierra Nevada, CA

Ankenbauer, Kyle J., Loheide, Steven P., II
Hydrological processes 2017 v.31 no.4 pp. 891-901
water uptake, mathematical models, meadows, soil organic matter, mountains, groundwater flow, transpiration, water stress, soil water, summer, ecosystems, soil water retention, groundwater, California
Tuolumne Meadows is a groundwater dependent ecosystem in the Sierra Nevada of California, USA, that is threatened by hydrologic impacts that may lead to a substantial loss of organic matter in the soil. In order to provide a scientific basis for management of this type of ecosystem, this paper quantifies the effect of soil organic content on soil water retention and water use by plants. First, we show a substantial dependence of soil water retention on soil organic content by correlating Van Genuchten soil water retention parameters with soil organic content, independent of soil texture. Then, we demonstrate the impact of organic content on plants by simulating the degree to which root water uptake is affected by soil water retention with the use of a physically based numerical model of variably saturated groundwater flow. Our results indicate that the increased water retention by soil organic matter contributes as much as 8.8 cm to transpiration, or 35 additional water‐stress free days, during the dry summer when plants experience increased water stress.