Shifts in landscape ecohydrological structural–functional relationship driven by experimental manipulations and ecological interactions

Oren Hoffman, Hezi Yizhaq, Bertrand Boeken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Vegetation structure and patchiness are central controllers of ecohydrological function in semiarid regions. The feedback interactions between vegetation patchiness and water redistribution make semiarid ecosystems sensitive to state-shifts, where nonlinearities appear in the structure–function correlations. Hydrological connectivity of runoff sources is functionally important for source–sink interactions over a range of spatial scales and plays a key role in ecosystem state-shifts. Accordingly, the study of the functional responses of ecosystems to changes in connectivity is important for assessing the system's resilience in response to drivers of degradation. We used runoff data collected over 18 years in experimentally manipulated plots to study both the primary functional response to the manipulations and the changes in both structure and function over two decades. By comparing simultaneous changes in woody and herbaceous cover, biocrust cover and connectivity, and runoff yield, we examined the interactions among the different cover classes and assessed the functional consequences of these interactions. The manipulated changes in vegetation and biocrust cover caused large differences in runoff yields, with positive correlation between biocrust cover and runoff. However, changes in vegetation patterns reduced these differences, as the spread of herbaceous plant cover, at the expense of biocrust and woody cover, caused a shift in the cover–runoff relationship. The landscape was resilient to degradation due to rapid shrub growth in locations of high biocrust cover. On the other hand, a positive feedback of herbaceous plant cover replacing shrub cover caused a state-shift, likely driven by a combination of drought recurrence and cessation of grazing.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1806
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2017


  • biocrust
  • functional connectivity
  • long-term study
  • overland runoff
  • semiarid rangeland
  • state shift
  • vegetation patterns

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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