Relationships between landforms, geomorphic processes, and plant communities on a watershed in the northern Chihuahuan Desert

TitleRelationships between landforms, geomorphic processes, and plant communities on a watershed in the northern Chihuahuan Desert
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1996
AuthorsWondzell SM, Cunningham GL, Dominique B
JournalLandscape Ecology
Date Published1996
Accession NumberJRN00217
Call Number00667
Keywordsarticle, articles, deposition, desertification, ecotones, erosion, grassland, grazing, journal, journals, limiting resources, runoff, shrubland, water availability

The close correlation of plant communities to landforms and geomorphic surfaces resulted from differences in the redistribution of water and organic matter between landforms in the northern Chihuahuan Desert. Biotic processes are limited by water and nitrogen, and the interactions between landforms, geomorphic processes, soils, and plant communities control the redistribution of these limiting resources within internally drained catchments. Geomorphic processes are regulated by the geologic structure and gross topographic relief of internally drained catchments over geological time scales. Land forming processes can be viewed as static at time scales of 10's to 100's of years, with individual landforms regulating geomorphic processes, namely erosion and deposition resulting from the horizontal redistribution of water within the catchment. The vegetation composition is a critical feedback, reinforcing the erosional or depositional geomorphic processes that dominate each landform. The Jornada Long-Term Ecological Research site may be one of the simplest cases in which to decipher the relationship between landforms, geomorphic processes and plant communities. However, these geomorphic processes are common to all internally drained catchments throughout the Basin and Range Province, and result in the development of characteristic landforms and associated vegetation communities. Although the patterns may be modified by differences in parent material, watershed size, and land use history -- erosional, depositional, and transportational landforms can still be identified. The sharpness of ecotones between plant communities on individual landforms is related to the degree to which landforms are linked through the flow of water and sediment. Sharp ecotones occurred at the transition from depositional to erosional landforms where little material was transferred and steep environmental gradients are maintained. Gradual ecotones occurred at the transition from erosional to depositional landforms where large quantities of material were transferred leading to the development of a gradual environmental gradient. The relationships between geomorphic processes and vegetation communities that we describe have important implications for understanding the desertification of grasslands throughout semi-arid regions of North America. disturbances such as grazing and climate change alter the composition of plant communities, thereby affecting the feedbacks to geomorphic processes, eventually changing drainage patterns and the spatial patterns of plant communities supported within the landscape.