Effects of woody plants on microclimate in a semiarid woodland: Soil temperature and evaporation in canopy and intercanopy patches

David D. Breshears, John W. Nyhan, Christopher E. Heil, Bradford P. Wilcox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

273 Scopus citations


The canopies of woody plants in semiarid ecosystems modify the microclimate beneath and around them, with canopy patches usually having lower soil temperatures than intercanopy patches. However, lacking are studies that have evaluated how heterogeneity in soil temperature, induced by woody plant canopies, influences soil evaporation rates and the consequent effects on plant-available water. Soil temperatures were measured and soil evaporation rates were estimated for canopy and intercanopy patches in a semiarid pinon-juniper woodland (Pinus edulis and Juniperus monosperma) in northern New Mexico. Soil temperature was measured at 2-cm depths in four canopy and four intercanopy locations during 1994. Maximum soil temperature in intercanopy patches was greater than in canopy patches between May and September, by as much as 10°C, while soil temperatures in intercanopy patches were lower than in canopy patches during colder parts of the day in the fall and winter months. Equations for soil drying rates for sandy loam soil samples were determined in laboratory experiments over a range of temperatures and soil water contents. Drying rates were disproportionately greater at high soil moisture and high soil temperature. Intercanopy patches were predicted to dry more than canopy patches for days in April through September by as much as 2% volumetric soil water content per day. The difference between patches was amplified at lower soil water contents when expressed as soil water potential, which more directly determines plant-available water. Our results quantify the effects of woody plants on the microclimate with respect to soil temperature and evaporation, which in turn affect herbaceous and woody plants by modifying factors such as germination, the potential for facilitation, and the amount of plant-available water.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1010-1017
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Plant Sciences
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Plant Science


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