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Woody encroachment of grasslands: near-surface thermal implications through the lens of an astronomical event


Tanner, Evan; Fuhlendorf, Samuel; Polo, John; Peterson, Jacob (2022), Woody encroachment of grasslands: near-surface thermal implications through the lens of an astronomical event, Dryad, Dataset,


Temperature has long been understood as a fundamental condition that influences ecological patterns and processes. Heterogeneity in landscapes that is structured by ultimate (climate) and proximate (vegetation, topography, disturbance events, and land use) forces serve to shape thermal patterns across multiple spatio-temporal scales. Thermal landscapes of grasslands are likely shifting as woody encroachment fragments these ecosystems and studies quantifying thermal fragmentation in grassland systems resulting from woody encroachment are lacking. We utilized the August 21st, 2017 solar eclipse to mimic a rapid sunrise/sunset event across a landscape characterized as a grassland to experimentally manipulate levels of solar radiation in the system. We then quantified changes in near surface temperatures resulting from changes in solar radiation levels during the eclipse. Temperatures were monitored across three grassland pastures in central Oklahoma that were characterized by different densities (low, medium, and high) of Juniperus virginiana to understand the impact of woody encroachment on diurnal temperature patterns and thermal heterogeneity in a grassland’s thermal landscape. The largest temperature range across sites that occurred during the eclipse was in the mixed grass vegetation. Similarly, the largest change in thermal heterogeneity occurred in the grassland with the lowest amount of woody encroachment. Thermal heterogeneity was lowest in the highly encroached grassland, which also experienced the lowest overall change in thermal heterogeneity during the eclipse. Time-series models suggested that solar radiation was the most influential factor in predicting changes in thermal heterogeneity as opposed to ambient temperature alone. These results suggest that highly encroached grasslands may experience lower diurnal variability of temperatures at the cost of a decrease in the overall thermal heterogeneity of that landscape. It appears that fine-scale spatio-temporal thermal variation is largely driven by solar radiation, which can be influenced by vegetation heterogeneity inherent within a landscape. 


National Science Foundation, Award: OIA-1301789