A preliminary assessment of rain throughfall beneath Portulacaria afra canopy in subtropical thicket and its implications for soil carbon stocks
Subtropical thicket dominated by the leaf- and stem-succulent tree Potulacaria afra (spekboom) accumulates extraordinarily high amounts of soil organic carbon for a semi-arid ecosystem. This has been attributed to high leaf litter production of canopy trees - especially spekboom - and the relatively cool beneath-canopy temperatures, which reduces mineralization of organic matter. High rainfall interception by the dense thicket canopy may also contribute to reduced mineralization of soil organic carbon stocks via a reduced Birch effect (wet-dry cycles) and overall reduced moisture of organic matter. Here we provide preliminary data on one easily measurable component of canopy interception, namely throughfall, which is the amount of rain falling on the canopy that is not intercepted by the canopy or diverted as stemflow. For 23 rainfall events > 1 mm in the period Jan-Jun 2006, we measured 275 ± 21 mm gross rainfall at three spekboom thicket sites. Mean throughfall was 56.4% across all events and ≤ 20% for small (≤ 5 mm) events. These values are the lowest recorded in the literature. Throughfall in tropical and temperate forests ranges from 70 to 90%, Mediterranean woodland trees 70-80%, and Savanna trees 75-84%. The low rates of throughfall recorded in this study support the hypothesis that the extreme accumulation of soil organic carbon in thicket soils is partly due to interception of rainfall and concomitant constraints on soil microbial activity. The extraordinary high interception of rainfall by the spekboom thicket canopy warrants further research at the ecosystem level. © 2010 Elsevier B.V.