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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Fog Water and Ecosystem Function: Heterogeneity in a California Redwood Forest

  • Author(s): Ewing, Holly A.
  • Weathers, Kathleen C.
  • Templer, Pamela H.
  • Dawson, Todd E.
  • Firestone, Mary K.
  • Elliott, Amanda M.
  • Boukili, Vanessa K.
  • et al.

Fog is thought to influence ecological function in coastal forests worldwide, yet few data are available that illuminate the mechanisms underlying this influence. In a California redwood forest we measured water and nitrogen (N) fluxes from horizontally moving fog and vertically delivered rain as well as redwood tree function. The spatial heterogeneity of water and N fluxes, water availability, tree water use, and canopy N processing varied greatly across seasons. Water and N fluxes to soil (annual average of 98% and 89%, respectively) across the whole forest occurred primarily in the rain season and was relatively even across the whole forest. In contrast, below-canopy flux of fog water and N declined exponentially from the windward edge to the forest interior. Following large fog events, soil moisture was greater at the windward edge than anywhere else in the forest. Physiological activity in redwoods reflected these differences in inputs across seasons: tree physiological responses did not vary spatially in the rain season, but in the fog season, water use was greater, yet water stress was less, in trees at the windward edge of the forest versus the interior. In both seasons, vertical passage through the forest changed the amount of water and form and concentration of N, revealing the role of the tree canopy in processing atmospheric inputs. Although total fog water inputs were comparatively small, they may have important ecosystem functions, including relief of canopy water stress and, where there is fog drip, functional coupling of above- and belowground processes.

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