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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Linking Soil Moisture Variation and Abundance of Plants to Geomorphic Processes: A Generalized Model for Erosion‐Uplifting Landscapes

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The diffusive and advective erosion-created landscapes have similar structure (hillslopes and channels) across different scales regardless of variations in drivers and controls. The relative magnitude of diffusive erosion to advective erosion (D/K ratio) in a landscape development model controls hillslope length, shape, and drainage density, which regulate soil moisture variation, one of the critical resources of plants, through the contributing area (A) and local slope (S) represented by a topographic index (TI). Here we explore the theoretical relation between geomorphic processes, TI, and the abundance and distribution of plants. We derived an analytical model that expresses the TI with D, K, and A. This gives us the relation between soil moisture variation and geomorphic processes. Plant tolerance curves are used to link plant performance to soil moisture. Using the hypothetical tolerance curves of three plants, we show that the abundance and distribution of xeric, mesic, and hydric plants on the landscape are regulated by the D/K ratio. Where diffusive erosion is the major erosion process (large D/K ratio), mesic plants have higher abundance relative to xeric and hydric plants and the landscape has longer and convex-upward hillslope and low channel density. Increasing the dominance of advective erosion increases relative abundance of xeric and hydric plants dominance, and the landscape has short and concave hillslope and high channel density.

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