Authors: Ilan Stavi, Eli Zaady, Alexander Gusarov, Hezi Yizhaq
Published in: Journal of Geographical Sciences 2021, 31, 1187–1204
More information: LINK
A long-term drought has led to the mass mortality of shrubs in the semi-arid Israeli Negev. The most impacted shrub species is the Noaea mucronata (Forssk.) Asch. and Schweinf. In a four-year study, we found that herbaceous vegetation growth was greater in the dead shrub patches than in the surrounding inter-patch biocrusted spaces, suggesting that the dead shrub patches encompass improved micro-habitats. However, unexpectedly, the soil moisture in the dead shrub patches was consistently lower than that of the inter-patch biocrusted spaces. At the same time, soil quality in the dead shrub patches was higher than that in the inter-patch spaces. Therefore, it seems that the overall better soil conditions in the dead patches overcome the scarcity of soil-water, supporting increased herbaceous productivity. For explaining the discrepancy between herbaceous vegetation and soil-water, we formulated a conceptual framework, which highlights the key factors that regulate soil-water dynamics in this dryland ecosystem. We demonstrate that herbaceous vegetation is facilitated in the dead shrub patches by a legacy effect that takes place long after the shrubs have died. The dead shrub patches encompass a unique form of ecosystem engineering. The study highlights the complex and unpredicted impacts of prolonged droughts on dryland ecosystems.