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Capturing heterogeneity: The role of a study area’s extent for estimating mean throughfall

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Metzger,  Johanna Clara
FSU Jena Research Group Ecohydrology, Dr. A. Hildebrandt, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Hildebrandt,  Anke
FSU Jena Research Group Ecohydrology, Dr. A. Hildebrandt, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Zimmermann, A., Voss, S., Metzger, J. C., Hildebrandt, A., & Zimmermann, B. (2016). Capturing heterogeneity: The role of a study area’s extent for estimating mean throughfall. Journal of Hydrology, 542, 781-789. doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2016.09.047.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002C-2748-0
Abstract
The selection of an appropriate spatial extent of a sampling plot is one among several important decisions involved in planning a throughfall sampling scheme. In fact, the choice of the extent may determine whether or not a study can adequately characterize the hydrological fluxes of the studied ecosystem. Previous attempts to optimize throughfall sampling schemes focused on the selection of an appropriate sample size, support, and sampling design, while comparatively little attention has been given to the role of the extent. In this contribution, we investigated the influence of the extent on the representativeness of mean throughfall estimates for three forest ecosystems of varying stand structure. Our study is based on virtual sampling of simulated throughfall fields. We derived these fields from throughfall data sampled in a simply structured forest (young tropical forest) and two heterogeneous forests (old tropical forest, unmanaged mixed European beech forest). We then sampled the simulated throughfall fields with three common extents and various sample sizes for a range of events and for accumulated data. Our findings suggest that the size of the study area should be carefully adapted to the complexity of the system under study and to the required temporal resolution of the throughfall data (i.e. event-based versus accumulated). Generally, event-based sampling in complex structured forests (conditions that favor comparatively long autocorrelations in throughfall) requires the largest extents. For event-based sampling, the choice of an appropriate extent can be as important as using an adequate sample size.