Global distribution of the rooting zone water storage capacity reflects plant adaptation to the environment


The rooting zone water storage capacity (S0) extends from the soil surface to the weathered bedrock (the Critical Zone) and determines land-atmosphere exchange during dry periods. Despite its importance to land-surface modeling, variations of S0 across space are largely unknown as they cannot be observed directly. We developed a method to diagnose global variations of S0 from the relationship between vegetation activity (measured by sun-induced fluorescence and by the evaporative fraction) and the cumulative water deficit (CWD). We then show that spatial variations in S0 can be predicted from the assumption that plants are adapted to sustain CWD extremes occurring with a return period that is related to the life form of dominant plants and the large-scale topographical setting. Predicted biome-level S0 distributions, translated to an apparent rooting depth (zr) by accounting for soil texture, are consistent with observations from a comprehensive zr dataset. Large spatial variations in S0 across the globe reflect adaptation of zr to the hydroclimate and topography and implies large heterogeneity in the sensitivity of vegetation activity to drought. The magnitude of S0 inferred for most of the Earthtextquoterights vegetated regions and particularly for those with a large seasonality in their hydroclimate indicates an important role for plant access to water stored at depth - beyond the soil layers commonly considered in land-surface models.Competing Interest StatementThe authors have declared no competing interest.