Spatial heterogeneity of subsurface soil texture drives landscape-scale patterns of woody patches in a subtropical savanna
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2017, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. Context: In the Rio Grande Plains of southern Texas, subtropical savanna vegetation is characterized by a two-phase pattern consisting of discrete woody patches embedded within a C 4 grassland matrix. Prior trench transect studies have suggested that, on upland portions of the landscape, large woody patches (groves) occur on non-argillic inclusions, while small woody patches (clusters) are dispersed among herbaceous vegetation where the argillic horizon is present. Objective: To test whether spatial heterogeneity of subsurface soil texture drives the landscape-scale pattern of woody patches in this subtropical savanna. Methods: Landscape-scale spatial patterns of soil texture were quantified by taking spatially-specific soil samples to a depth of 1.2m in a 160m100m plot. Kriged maps of soil texture were developed, and the locations of non-argillic inclusions were mapped. Results: Visual comparison of kriged maps of soil texture to a high resolution aerial photograph of the study area revealed that groves were present exclusively where the non-argillic inclusions were present. This clear visual relationship was further supported by positive correlations between soil sand concentration in the lower soil layers and total fine root biomass which mapped the locations of groves. Conclusions: Subsurface non-argillic inclusions may favor the establishment and persistence of groves by enabling root penetration deeper into the profile, providing greater access to water and nutrients that are less accessible on those portions of the landscape where the argillic horizon is present, thereby regulating the distribution of grove vegetation and structuring the evolution of this landscape.