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Keywords:

  • ecohydrology;
  • catchment hydrology;
  • spatial scale dependence;
  • subsidy;
  • vegetation pattern;
  • global change

[1] The difficulties in predicting whole catchment water balance from observations at patch scales motivate a search for theories that can account for the complexity of interactions in catchments. In this paper we suggest that the spatial patterns of vegetation may offer a lens through which to investigate scale dependence of hydrology within catchments. Vegetation patterns are attractive because they are observable drivers of evapotranspiration, often a dominant component in catchment water balance, and because the spatial distribution of vegetation is often driven by patterns of water availability. We propose that nontrivial, scale-dependent spatial patterns in both vegetation distribution and catchment water balance are generated by the presence of a convergent network of flow paths and a two-way feedback between vegetation as a driver of evapotranspiration and vegetation distribution as a signature of water availability. Implementing this hypothesis via a simple network model demonstrated that such organization was controlled by catchment properties related to aridity, the network topology, the sensitivity of the vegetation response to water availability, and the point-scale controls on partitioning between evapotranspiration and lateral drainage. The resulting self-organization generated spatial dependence in areally averaged hydrologic variables, water balance, and parameters describing hydrological partitioning. This spatial scale dependence provides a theoretical approach to connect water balance at patch and catchment scales. Theoretical and empirical studies for understanding the controls of vegetation spatial distribution, point-scale hydrological partitioning, and the implications of complex flow network topologies on the spatial scale dependence of catchment water balance are proposed as a research agenda for catchment ecohydrology.