Global environmental changes impact soil hydraulic functions through biophysical feedbacks

David A. Robinson*, Jan W. Hopmans, Vilim Filipovic, Martine van der Ploeg, Inma Lebron, Scott B. Jones, Sabine Reinsch, Nick Jarvis, Markus Tuller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Although only representing 0.05% of global freshwater, or 0.001% of all global water, soil water supports all terrestrial biological life. Soil moisture behaviour in most models is constrained by hydraulic parameters that do not change. Here we argue that biological feedbacks from plants, macro-fauna and the microbiome influence soil structure, and thus the soil hydraulic parameters and the soil water content signals we observe. Incorporating biological feedbacks into soil hydrological models is therefore important for understanding environmental change and its impacts on ecosystems. We anticipate that environmental change will accelerate and modify soil hydraulic function. Increasingly, we understand the vital role that soil moisture exerts on the carbon cycle and other environmental threats such as heatwaves, droughts and floods, wildfires, regional precipitation patterns, disease regulation and infrastructure stability, in addition to agricultural production. Biological feedbacks may result in changes to soil hydraulic function that could be irreversible, resulting in alternative stable states (ASS) of soil moisture. To explore this, we need models that consider all the major feedbacks between soil properties and soil-plant-faunal-microbial-atmospheric processes, which is something we currently do not have. Therefore, a new direction is required to incorporate a dynamic description of soil structure and hydraulic property evolution into soil-plant-atmosphere, or land surface, models that consider feedbacks from land use and climate drivers of change, so as to better model ecosystem dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1895-1904
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2019


  • biophysical feedbacks
  • environmental change
  • hydraulic
  • infiltration
  • soil physics
  • soil water content
  • state shift
  • water repellency

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