Effects of Phenology and Meteorological Disturbance on Litter Rainfall Interception for a Pinus Elliottii Stand in the Southeastern US

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Hydrological Processes




Litter layers develop across a diverse array of vegetated ecosystems and undergo significant temporal compositional changes due to canopy phenological phases and disturbances. Past research on temporal dynamics of litter interception have focused primarily on litter thickness and leaf fall, yet forest phenophases can change many more litter attributes (e.g., woody debris, bark shedding, and release of reproductive materials). In this study, weekly changes in litter composition over 1 year were used to estimate litter water storage dynamics and model event-based litter interception. Litter interception substantially reduced throughfall (6-43%) and litter water storage capacity ranged from 1-3 mm, peaking when megastrobili release and liana leaf senescence occurred simultaneously during fall 2015. Tropical storm disturbances occurred during the sampling period, allowing evaluation of how meteorological disturbances altered litter interception. High wind speeds and intense rainfall from two tropical storms increased litter interception by introducing new woody debris which, in this study, stored more water than the pre-existing woody debris. After two extreme weather events, a third (Hurricane Hermine) did not increase woody debris (or litter interception), suggesting that the canopy pool of branches susceptible to breakage had been largely depleted. Needle and bark shedding had minor effects on litter interception. Results suggest that the release of reproductive materials and meteorological disturbances appear to be the major compositional drivers of litter interception beyond their obvious contribution to litter thickness.