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Hydrology, erosion and nutrient transfers over a transition from semi-arid grassland to shrubland in the South-Western USA: A modelling assessment

Turnbull, L.; Wainwright, J.; Brazier, R.E.


L. Turnbull

J. Wainwright

R.E. Brazier



Land degradation in arid and semi-arid areas, as a consequence of the invasion of grasslands by shrubs, is often associated with an increase in runoff and erosion and a change in nutrient transport. Modelling of nutrient transport during runoff events (in particular particulate-bound nutrients), is especially important, since the spatial redistribution of nutrients (in addition to water and sediment) can have significant implications for vegetation dynamics in these ecosystems. In this study, Mahleran (Model for Assessing Hillslope to Landscape Erosion Runoff, And Nutrients) is extensively evaluated against runoff and erosion data from four plots (representative of different stages of land degradation) over a transition from grassland to shrubland, at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, USA. A new particulate-bound nutrient module was developed to include a representation of particulate-bound nutrient dynamics, which is an important form of nutrient transport in these ecosystems. Understanding dynamics of both dissolved and particulate-bound nutrient dynamics during runoff events is imperative, because of their differing roles in terms of nutrient bioavailability and potential implications for plant dynamics. Results of the model evaluation show that the runoff and erosion components of Mahleran perform reasonably well, as does the new particulate-bound nutrient sub-model, though not consistently. Performance of the particulate-bound nutrient model was better for the end-member plots, because of better parameterization data available for end-member vegetation types. Since the particulate-bound nutrient sub-model is by necessity strongly dependent on the simulated erosion rate, the performance of the particulate-bound nutrient model is dependent on the performance of the erosion component of Mahleran, so that when erosion is well represented by the model, so typically are particulate nutrient transfers. The performance of the dissolved nutrient component of Mahleran was poor in this application, which indicates that the process representation for this semi-arid environment and the parameterisation of the dissolved nutrient component were inadequate. Results from the model evaluation suggest that an improved understanding of dissolved nutrient dynamics during runoff events and simulation if inter-event nutrient dynamics is required, in order to improve the level of process representation within modelling approaches and thus the ability to simulate dissolved nutrient dynamics and their subsequent effects on other ecosystem processes.


Turnbull, L., Wainwright, J., & Brazier, R. (2010). Hydrology, erosion and nutrient transfers over a transition from semi-arid grassland to shrubland in the South-Western USA: A modelling assessment. Journal of Hydrology, 388(3-4), 258-272.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jul 1, 2010
Deposit Date Apr 3, 2012
Journal Journal of Hydrology
Print ISSN 0022-1694
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 388
Issue 3-4
Pages 258-272
Keywords Runoff, Erosion, Land degradation, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Ecogeomorphology.