Modelling ecohydrological feedbacks in forest and grassland plots under a prolonged drought anomaly in Central Europe 2018–2020

Lukas Kleine*, Doerthe Tetzlaff, Aaron Smith, Maren Dubbert, Chris Soulsby

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


Recent studies have highlighted the importance of understanding ecohydrological drought feedbacks to secure water resources under a changing climate and increasing anthropogenic impacts. In this study, we monitored and modelled feedbacks in the soil–plant-atmosphere continuum to the European drought summer 2018 and the following 2 years. The physically based, isotope-aided model EcH2O-iso was applied to generic vegetation plots (forest and grassland) in the lowland, groundwater-dominated research catchment Demnitzer Millcreek (NE Germany; 66 km2). We included, inter alia, soil water isotope data in the model calibration and quantified changing “blue” (groundwater recharge) and “green” (evapotranspiration) water fluxes and ages under each land use as the drought progressed. Novel plant xylem isotope data were excluded from calibration but were compared with simulated root uptake signatures in model validation. Results indicated inter-site differences in the dynamics of soil water storage and fluxes with contrasting water age both during the drought and the subsequent 2 years. Forest vegetation consistently showed a greater moisture stress, more rapid recovery and higher variability in root water uptake depths from a generally younger soil water storage. In contrast, the grassland site, which had more water-retentive soils, showed higher and older soil water storage and groundwater recharge fluxes. The damped storage and flux dynamics under grassland led to a slower return to younger water ages at depth. Such evidence-based and quantitative differences in ecohydrological feedbacks to drought stress in contrasting soil-vegetation units provide important insights into Critical Zone water cycling. This can help inform future progress in the monitoring, modelling and development of climate mitigation strategies in drought-sensitive lowlands.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14325
Number of pages20
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number8
Early online date18 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 18 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:

The authors are grateful to all colleagues involved in the sample collection and infrastructure installation in the DMC (in particular H. Dämpfling, J. Freymüller, H. Wang, S. Jordan, A. Douinot, A. Wieland, N. Weiß, L. Kuhlemann, C. Marx, L. Lachmann, W. Lehmann). We thank D. Dubbert for support with the extensive isotope analysis, as well as Department 6 of the IGB (in particular T. Rossoll) for help with the sampling, measurement equipment and insights to the long-term catchment infrastructure and background. We are thankful for trustful collaboration with B. Bösel and technical support by the WLV (Wasser und Landschaftspflegeverband Untere Spree). Contributions from Soulsby were supported by the Leverhulme Trust's ISO-LAND project (RPG-2018-375). Two anonymous reviewers are thanked for constructive comments.


  • drought
  • ecohydrology
  • soil–plant-atmosphere
  • water ages
  • water stable isotopes


Dive into the research topics of 'Modelling ecohydrological feedbacks in forest and grassland plots under a prolonged drought anomaly in Central Europe 2018–2020'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this