Spatial scale dependence of ecohydrologically mediated water balance partitioning: A synthesis framework for catchment ecohydrology

Sally E. Thompson, Ciaran J. Harman, Peter A. Troch, Paul D. Brooks, Murugesu Sivapalan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

123 Scopus citations


The difficulties in predicting whole catchment water balance from observations at patch scales motivate a search for theories that can account for the complexity of interactions in catchments. In this paper we suggest that the spatial patterns of vegetation may offer a lens through which to investigate scale dependence of hydrology within catchments. Vegetation patterns are attractive because they are observable drivers of evapotranspiration, often a dominant component in catchment water balance, and because the spatial distribution of vegetation is often driven by patterns of water availability. We propose that nontrivial, scale-dependent spatial patterns in both vegetation distribution and catchment water balance are generated by the presence of a convergent network of flow paths and a two-way feedback between vegetation as a driver of evapotranspiration and vegetation distribution as a signature of water availability. Implementing this hypothesis via a simple network model demonstrated that such organization was controlled by catchment properties related to aridity, the network topology, the sensitivity of the vegetation response to water availability, and the point-scale controls on partitioning between evapotranspiration and lateral drainage. The resulting self-organization generated spatial dependence in areally averaged hydrologic variables, water balance, and parameters describing hydrological partitioning. This spatial scale dependence provides a theoretical approach to connect water balance at patch and catchment scales. Theoretical and empirical studies for understanding the controls of vegetation spatial distribution, point-scale hydrological partitioning, and the implications of complex flow network topologies on the spatial scale dependence of catchment water balance are proposed as a research agenda for catchment ecohydrology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberW00J03
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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