Monitoring the formation of structures and patterns during initial development of an artificial catchment

TitleMonitoring the formation of structures and patterns during initial development of an artificial catchment
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsSchaaf W, Elmer M>, Fischer A, Gerwin W, Nenov R, Pretzsch H, Seifert S, Winter S, Zaplata MK
JournalEnvironmental Monitoring and Assessment
Start Page5965
Keywordsecosystem development, hydrology, soil formation, Surface structures, vegetation succession

The objective of this paper is to present observations, results from monitoring measurements, and preliminary conclusions about the development of patterns and structures during the first 5 years of development of an artificial catchment starting from point zero. We discuss the high relevance of initial system traits and external events for the system development and draw conclusions for further research. These investigations as part of a Collaborative Research Center, aim to disentangle and understand the feedback mechanisms and interrelationships of processes and their co-development with spatial and temporal structures and patterns by studying an initial, probably less complex ecosystem. Therefore, intensive measurements were carried out in the catchment with regard to the development of surface structures, hydrological patterns, vegetation dynamics, water chemistry, and element budgets. During the first 5 years, considerable changes within the catchment were observed. Both internal and external factors could be identified as driving forces for the formation of structures and patterns in the artificial catchment. Initial structures formed by the construction process and initial substrate characteristics were decisive for the distribution and flow of water. External factors like episodic events triggered erosion and dissection during this initial phase, promoted by the low vegetation cover, and the unconsolidated sandy substrate. The transformation of the initial geosystem into areas with evolving terrestrial or aquatic characteristics and from a very episodic to a more permanent stream network and discharge, together with the observed vegetation dynamics increased site diversity and heterogeneity with respect to water and nutrient availability and transformation processes compared with the more homogenous conditions at point zero. The processes and feedback mechanisms in the initial development of a new landscape may deviate in rates, intensity, and dominance from those known from mature ecosystems. It is therefore crucial to understand these early phases of ecosystem development and to disentangle the increasingly complex interactions between the evolving terrestrial and aquatic, biotic, and abiotic compartments of the system. Long-term monitoring of initial ecosystems may provide important data and parameters on processes and the crucial role of spatial and temporal structures and patterns to solve these problems. Artificially created catchments could be a suitable tool to study these initial developments at the landscape scale under known, designed, and defined boundary conditions.