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Front. Plant Sci. | doi: 10.3389/fpls.2018.00248

Mini-review: Stemflow as a resource limitation to near-stem soils

  • 1Geology and Geography, Georgia Southern University, United States

Stemflow, the main precipitation and solute supply to soils near tree stems, can play a wide array of roles in ecosystem functioning. However, stemflow’s ecohydrological functions have been primarily studied in forests with voluminous stemflow because resource subsidy is currently considered stemflow’s only impact on near-stem soils. This common assumption ignores controls that stemflow generation may exert via resource limitation (when stemflow < open rainfall). We reviewed selected literature across numerous forests to evaluate the predominance of stemflow as a resource limitation to near-stem soils and characterized the concentrated, but meager, solute flux from low stemflow generators. Global observations of stemflow were highly skewed (skewness = 4.6) and leptokurtic (kurtosis = 28.8), where 69% of observations were ≤2% of rainfall. Stemflow ≤2% of rainfall is 10-100 times more chemically enriched than open rainfall, yet low volumes result in negligible solute fluxes (under 1 g m-2 y-1). Reduced stemflow may be the global and regional norm, creating persistently dry near-stem soils that receive infrequent, salty, and paltry precipitation flux. Ignoring stemflow because it results in scarcity likely limits our understanding of ecosystem functioning as resource limitations alter the fate of soil nutrients, energy flows, and spatial patterning of biogeochemical processes.

Keywords: Ecohydrology, stemflow, plant-soil interactions, Arid environment, Forest ecology

Received: 18 Sep 2017; Accepted: 12 Feb 2018.

Edited by:

James Stangoulis, Flinders University, Australia

Reviewed by:

Jeff Wolt, Iowa State University, United States
Carl Rosier, University of Delaware, United States  

Copyright: © 2018 Van Stan and Gordon. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. John T. Van Stan, II., Georgia Southern University, Geology and Geography, Statesboro, 30460, Georgia, United States, jvanstan@georgiasouthern.edu