Altered ecohydrologic response drives native shrub loss under conditions of elevated nitrogen deposition

Yvonne A. Wood, Thomas Meixner, Peter J. Shouse, Edith B. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Many regions of southern California's coastal sage scrub (CSS) are rapidly declining as exotic annual plants replace native shrubs. During this conversion, the subsurface hydrology of the seniiarid hillslopes that support CSS may be altered. This could chronically suppress the ability of native shrubland to revegetate the landscape since ecosystem processes of nutrient availability and of seedling establishment rely on spatial patterns of available soil water. In this work, soil water and nutrient N regimes were compared over a 2-yr period between a southern California site where CSS has declined (approximately 5% shrub cover) with high additions of anthropogenic N, and one where CSS remains dominant (over 50% shrub cover) with predominantly background atmospheric additions of N. These two sites have similar climate, bedrock lithology, soils, and topography, and had the same vegetation type (Riversidean CSS) 30 years ago. We found that the depth and rate of rainwater percolation into wildland hillslope soils in response to early-season storm events has been greatly reduced after loss of CSS shrubs and vegetation type conversion to invasive grassland. With decreased rainwater redistribution to soil depths of 100 to 150 cm, the predominant zone of soil water has become the upper 25 cm. This shift exacerbates vegetation type conversion by (i) concentrating smog-produced nitrogenous (N) chemicals in the uppermost soil, where they become readily available, along with high soil water, to shallow-rooted exotic grasses early in the growing season and (ii) depriving adult and juvenile shrubs of deeper regolith water.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)76-92
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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