Seasonal carryover of water and effects on carbon dynamics in a dryland ecosystem

Eli R. Pérez-Ruiz, Enrique R. Vivoni, Osvaldo E. Sala

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Net primary productivity in arid and semiarid regions is controlled by water availability for which rainfall has been a commonly used proxy at annual scales. However, the hydrological partitioning occurring through the water balance can also shape both seasonal and annual net ecosystem productivity. In this study, we used 10 years of water and carbon flux measurements in a mixed shrubland watershed of the Chihuahuan Desert to investigate the seasonal variability and controls on net ecosystem production. Over this period, the site exhibited a bimodal rainfall regime with an average of 211 and 67 mm for the wet (July–December) and dry (January–June) periods of the year, respectively. During the wet season, soil infiltration and channel transmission losses led to an average of 35.8 mm of water stored in the subsurface for subsequent dry periods. By contrast, dry seasons consumed 30.3 mm of stored subsurface water to fulfill the ecosystem water demand, particularly during the springtime. In response, gross primary productivity occurred in equal amounts for both seasons, while ecosystem respiration was substantially higher during the wet season. This resulted in the mixed shrubland acting as an annual net sink of carbon (average of 153.2 g C m−2 year−1) of which 65% occurred during the dry season. We determined that the wet season provided water in excess of vegetation demands in that season, a portion of which was stored in the watershed subsurface for subsequent use, leading to a legacy effect. Gross primary productivity during the dry season was dependent on carryover soil moisture accessed by deep-rooted shrubs. Our coordinated observations of water–carbon dynamics revealed that water availability during the wet season can sustain the annual ecosystem productivity by impacting the subsequent dry season carbon uptake.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere4189
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2022


  • Chihuahuan Desert
  • Special Feature: Dynamic Deserts
  • dryland ecohydrology
  • ecosystem productivity
  • eddy covariance
  • environmental sensor network
  • shrubland
  • watershed hydrology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


Dive into the research topics of 'Seasonal carryover of water and effects on carbon dynamics in a dryland ecosystem'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this