On the impact of shrub encroachment on microclimate conditions in the northern Chihuahuan desert

Yufei He, Paolo D'Odorico, Stephan F.J. De Wekker, Jose D. Fuentes, Marcy Litvak

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59 Scopus citations


Changes in vegetation cover are known for their ability to modify the surface energy balance and near-surface microclimate conditions. A major change in vegetation composition that has been occurring in many dryland regions around the world is associated with the replacement of arid grasslands by desert shrublands. The impact of shrub encroachment on regional climate conditions remains poorly investigated, and, to date, it is unclear how this shift in plant community composition may affect the microclimate. Here we used concurrent meteorological observations at two adjacent sites dominated by Larrea tridentata shrubs and native grass species, respectively, in the northern Chihuahuan desert to investigate differences in nighttime air temperatures between the shrubland and grassland vegetation covers. The nighttime air temperature was found to be substantially higher (>2°C) in the shrubland than in the grassland, especially during calm winter nights. These differences in surface air temperature were accompanied by differences in longwave radiation and sensible and ground heat fluxes. We developed a one-dimensional model to show how longwave radiation emitted by the ground at night can explain the higher nighttime air temperature over the shrubland. Because of the larger fraction of bare soil typically existing in the shrub cover, the ground surface remains less insulated and more energy flows into the ground at the shrubland site than in the grassland during daytime. This energy is then released at night mainly as longwave radiation, which causes the differences in the nighttime air temperatures between the two land covers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberD21120
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres
Issue number21
StatePublished - 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Forestry
  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Palaeontology


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