Land Use Change Effects on Catchment Runoff Response in a Humid Tropical Montane Region

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Lyssette E Munoz Villers, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico, Jeffrey McDonnell, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada and Daniel R. Geissert Kientz, Instituto de Ecologia, A.C., Red de Ecologia Funcional, Xalapa, Mexico
The provision and regulation of water flows in catchments is probably the most important ecosystem functioning of tropical montane cloud forests (TMCF), however its hydrological dynamics and impacts associated with forest conversion remain very poorly understood. The present study aimed to compare the annual, seasonal and event-scale streamflow patterns and runoff generation processes of three neighbouring headwater catchments in eastern Mexico with similar pedological and geological characteristics, but different land cover: old-growth TMCF, 20 yr-old naturally regenerating TMCF and a heavily grazed pasture. We used a 2 yr record of rainfall and stream flow data in combination with isotope and chemical tracer data collected for a series of storms during a 6-week period of increasing antecedent wetness (wetting-up cycle). Our results showed that annual and seasonal streamflow patterns in the mature and secondary forest were similar. Conversely, the pasture showed higher annual streamflow (10%), however 50% on average lower baseflow at the end of the dry season, associated probably to more gentle slopes in combination with lower soil infiltration capacity, and thus reduced recharge of subsurface water storages. During the wetting-up cycle, storm runoff ratios increased at all three catchments (from 11 to 54% for the mature forest, 7 to 52% for the secondary forest and 3 to 59% for the pasture). With the increasing antecedent wetness, the analysis showed progressive increases of pre-event water contributions to total stormflow (from 35 to 99% in the mature forest, 26 to 92% in the secondary forest and 64 to 97% in the pasture). At all sites, rainfall-runoff responses were dominated by subsurface flow processes. However, for the largest and most intense storm sampled (typically occurring once every 2 yr), the event water contribution in the pasture (34%) was much higher than in the forests (5% on average), indicating that rainfall infiltration capacity of the pasture was exceeded. This suggests that the conversion of cloud forest to pasture can promote major increases in overland flow in response to extreme rainfall events, despite the high permeability of the volcanic soils. Our results also showed that 20 yr of natural regeneration may be enough to largely restore the original hydrological conditions of this TMCF.