Articles | Volume 10, issue 12
Biogeosciences, 10, 8283–8303, 2013

Special issue: Ecosystems in transition: interactions and feedbacks with...

Biogeosciences, 10, 8283–8303, 2013

Research article 16 Dec 2013

Research article | 16 Dec 2013

Relationships between substrate, surface characteristics, and vegetation in an initial ecosystem

P. Biber1, S. Seifert1,*, M. K. Zaplata2,**, W. Schaaf3, H. Pretzsch1, and A. Fischer2 P. Biber et al.
  • 1Chair for Forest Growth and Yield, Department Ecology and Ecosystem Management, Technische Universität München, Freising, Germany
  • 2Geobotany, Department Ecology and Ecosystem Management, Technische Universität München, Freising, Germany
  • 3Soil Protection and Recultivation, Brandenburg University of Technology, Cottbus, Germany
  • *now at: Department of Forest and Wood Science, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa
  • **now at: Research Center Mining Landscapes and Landscape Development, Brandenburg University of Technology, Cottbus, Germany

Abstract. We investigated surface and vegetation dynamics in the artificial initial ecosystem "Chicken Creek" (Lusatia, Germany) in the years 2006–2011 across a wide spectrum of empirical data. We scrutinized three overarching hypotheses concerning (1) the relations between initial geomorphological and substrate characteristics with surface structure and terrain properties, (2) the effects of the latter on the occurrence of grouped plant species, and (3) vegetation density effects on terrain surface change. Our data comprise and conflate annual vegetation monitoring results, biennial terrestrial laser scans (starting in 2008), annual groundwater levels, and initially measured soil characteristics. The empirical evidence mostly confirms the hypotheses, revealing statistically significant relations for several goal variables: (1) the surface structure properties, local rill density, local relief energy and terrain surface height change; (2) the cover of different plant groups (annual, herbaceous, grass-like, woody, Fabaceae), and local vegetation height; and (3) terrain surface height change showed significant time-dependent relations with a variable that proxies local plant biomass. Additionally, period specific effects (like a calendar-year optimum effect for the occurrence of Fabaceae) were proven. Further and beyond the hypotheses, our findings on the spatiotemporal dynamics during the system's early development grasp processes which generally mark the transition from a geo-hydro-system towards a bio-geo-hydro system (weakening geomorphology effects on substrate surface dynamics, while vegetation effects intensify with time), where pure geomorphology or substrate feedbacks are changing into vegetation–substrate feedback processes.

Final-revised paper