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Durham University

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Publication details for Dr Laura Turnbull-Lloyd

Turnbull, L., Wainwright, J. & Brazier, R.E. (2010). Changes in hydrology and erosion over a transition from grassland to shrubland. Hydrological Processes 24(4): 393-414.

Author(s) from Durham


The degradation of grasslands is a common problem across semi-arid areas worldwide. Over the last 150 years, much of the south-western United States has experienced significant land degradation, with desert grasslands becoming dominated by shrubs and concurrent changes in runoff and erosion which are thought to propagate further the process of degradation. Plot-based experiments to determine how spatio-temporal characteristics of soil moisture, runoff and erosion change over a transition from grassland to shrubland were carried out at four sites over a transition from black grama (Bouteloua eriopoda) grassland to creosotebush (Larrea tridentata) shrubland at the Sevilleta NWR LTER site in New Mexico. Each site consisted of a 10 × 30 m bounded runoff plot and adjacent characterization plots with nested sampling points where soil moisture content was measured. Results show distinct spatio-temporal variations in soil moisture content, which are due to the net effect of processes operating at multiple spatial and temporal scales, such as plant uptake of water at local scales versus the redistribution of water during runoff events at the hillslope scale. There is an overall increase in runoff and erosion over the transition from grassland to shrubland, which is likely to be associated with an increase in connectivity of bare, runoff-generating areas, although these increases do not appear to follow a linear trajectory. Erosion rates increased over the transition from grassland to shrubland, likely related in part to changes in runoff characteristics and the increased capacity of the runoff to detach, entrain and transport sediment. Over all plots, fine material was preferentially eroded which has potential implications for nutrient cycling since nutrients tend to be associated with fine sediment.