Soil water balance and ecosystem response to climate change. Academic Article uri icon


  • Some essential features of the terrestrial hydrologic cycle and ecosystem response are singled out by confronting empirical observations of the soil water balance of different ecosystems with the results of a stochastic model of soil moisture dynamics. The simplified framework analytically describes how hydroclimatic variability (especially the frequency and amount of rainfall events) concurs with soil and plant characteristics in producing the soil moisture dynamics that in turn impact vegetation conditions. The results of the model extend and help interpret the classical curve of Budyko, which relates evapotranspiration losses to a dryness index, describing the partitioning of precipitation into evapotranspiration, runoff, and deep infiltration. They also provide a general classification of soil water balance of the world ecosystems based on two governing dimensionless groups summarizing the climate, soil, and vegetation conditions. The subsequent analysis of the links among soil moisture dynamics, plant water stress, and carbon assimilation offers an interpretation of recent manipulative field experiments on ecosystem response to shifts in the rainfall regime, showing that plant carbon assimilation crucially depends not only on the total rainfall during the growing season but also on the intermittency and magnitude of the rainfall events.

published proceedings

  • Am Nat

altmetric score

  • 3

author list (cited authors)

  • Porporato, A., Daly, E., & Rodriguez-Iturbe, I.

citation count

  • 529

complete list of authors

  • Porporato, Amilcare||Daly, Edoardo||Rodriguez-Iturbe, Ignacio

publication date

  • November 2004