Linking plant strategies to complex subsurface hydrology to predict ecosystem carbon storage across Texas

Linking Plant Strategies to Complex Subsurface Hydrology to Predict Ecosystem Carbon Storage Across Texas

The Edwards plateau stretches across central Texas. It is a dry and rocky place often with little soil for plants to grow. Yet, here we can see amazing strategies for trees growing deep in the rocky subsurface, somehow collecting enough water and nutrients to grow. As ecologists, we often work in places with simple below ground structure to test predictions of plant strategies based on idealized conditions. And as geoscientists we often ignore potential feedback between subsurface geology and plant strategies.

This project brings together ecologists and geoscientists to better understand these fascinating ecosystems, their resilience to changing climates and their current and future potential contributions to the global carbon cycle. The project includes: detailed measurements of the subsurface fluxes of carbon and water coupled with aboveground vegetation and flux measurements at a single site, theoretical research to guide our understanding of the plant strategies and feedbacks to geology, and the analysis of large-scale observational data from forest plots across Texas. With this research, we cross disciplinary boundaries and seek answers that apply to both Texas and more generally to the role of the land surface in the global carbon cycle.


Pictures show one of the boreholes being installed at the Onion Creek property where we are conducting our intensive monitoring. The soil here is very thin and sometimes absent, and we have documented roots up to 10 feet deep within the bedrock.

Project Team

Caroline Farrior, Assistant Professor, Integrative Biology

Daniella Rempe, Assistant Professor, Geological Sciences

Tim Keitt, Professor, Integrative Biology

Amy Wolf, Assistant Professor, Integrative Biology

Ashley Matheny, Assistant Professor, Geological Sciences

Dana Chadwick, Research Associate, Integrative Biology and Geological Sciences (starting Jan 2021)