Article

Occult precipitation and plants: its consequences for individuals and ecosystems

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Abstract

Fog, dew and cloud water inputs, aptly termed, occult precipitation", are not traditionally quantified yet more than two decades of research has revealed their importance to a wide range of vegetation types. Utilizing stable isotope methods, field and laboratory based physiological measurements, and a suite of occult precipitation collection approaches we now know that plants inhabiting a wide range of ecosystem types from the coastal California redwood forests and grasslands, to the Brazilian Cerrado (savanna), the Chilean community types are utilizing fog, dew and cloud water. Hydrogen and oxygen stable isotope analysis have revealed that both fog drip into the rooting zone and direct foliar-uptake of occult precipitation can occur and in some species, seasons and in drought-prone ecosystems it can easily constitute 30% of the annual hydrological inputs and between 20-60+% of all the water used by the vegetation. Fog and cloud water inputs can also be a significant source of water for re-supplying depleted sub-surface water stores. Perhaps most importantly, this important hydrological input not only helps sustain the physiological integrity of individual plants by allowing root and leaf functions to occur but has a marked impact on the manner and magnitude but which biogeochemical cycling proceeds. I will review the available data that point to the importance of quantifying occult precipitation inputs and then discuss its consequences for both individual plants and the entire ecosystems then compose. The data suggest that such information can now be incorporated into hydrological budgets and biogeochemical models.

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