Effects of tree morphology on rainwater partitioning in an upland oak forest
Item TypeGraduate Thesis
CommitteeVarner, J Morgan
Alexander, Heather D.
Due largely to fire exclusion and land use changes, upland oak ecosystems in the central and eastern U.S. are shifting dominance from fire-tolerant oaks (Quercus spp.) to shade-tolerant, fire-sensitive species (mesophytes). This shift has been hypothesized to occur via a positive feedback loop termed mesophication, where mesophytes create shaded understory that limits oak growth and wetter fuels and soils, decreasing forest flammability. To determine how canopy water partitioning varies between oaks and mesophytes, I measured stemflow, throughfall, and surface soil moisture monthly over a 14-month period for overstory and midstory trees of oaks (Q. alba, Q. falcata) and hypothesized mesophytes (Carya tomentosa, Acer rubrum, Ulmus alata) in northern Mississippi. Overstory oaks partitioned 5.1% of rainwater into stemflow, while mesophytic species partitioned 7.2%, leading to 3.5% wetter soils under mesophytes. The hydrology of mesophyte canopies may reduce forest flammability and promote conditions favorable for mesophyte regeneration, ultimately compromising long-term oak regeneration.