Articles | Volume 11, issue 6
01 Nov 2007
01 Nov 2007

Eco-geomorphology of banded vegetation patterns in arid and semi-arid regions

P. M. Saco, G. R. Willgoose, and G. R. Hancock

Abstract. The interaction between vegetation and hydrologic processes is particularly tight in water-limited environments where a positive-feedback links soil moisture and vegetation. The vegetation of these systems is commonly patterned, that is, arranged in a two phase mosaic composed of patches with high biomass cover interspersed within a low-cover or bare soil component. These patterns are strongly linked to the redistribution of runoff and resources from source areas (bare patches) to sink areas (vegetation patches) and play an important role in controlling erosion.

In this paper, the dynamics of these systems is investigated using a new modeling framework that couples landform and vegetation evolution, explicitly accounting for the dynamics of runon-runoff areas. The objective of this study is to analyze water-limited systems on hillslopes with mild slopes, in which overland flow occurs predominantly in only one direction and vegetation displays a banded pattern. Our simulations reproduce bands that can be either stationary or upstream migrating depending on the magnitude of the runoff-induced seed dispersal. We also found that stationary banded systems redistribute sediment so that a stepped microtopography is developed. The modelling results are the first to incorporate the effects of runoff redistribution and variable infiltration rates on the development of both the vegetation patterns and microtopography. The microtopography for stationary bands is characterized by bare soil on the lower gradient areas and vegetation on steeper gradients areas. For the case of migrating vegetation bands the model generates hillslope profiles with planar topography. The success at generating not only the observed patterns of vegetation, but also patterns of runoff and sediment redistribution suggests that the hydrologic and erosion mechanisms represented in the model are correctly capturing some of the key processes driving these ecosystems.