Assessing land use/land cover change impacts on the hydrology of Nyong River Basin, Cameroon

  • 1 Accesses


Uncontrolled land use land cover change (LULCC) is impacting watershed hydrology, particularly in tropical watersheds in developing countries. We assessed the extent of LULCC in the southern portion of the Nyong River basin through analysis of three land use maps in 1987, 2000 and 2014. LULCC impact on hydrological variables of the Mbalmayo, Olama, Pont So’o, Messam, and Nsimi sub-watersheds of the southern portion of the Nyong River basin were evaluated by using the linear regression modeling and the Mann-Kendall test. This study reveals that dense forest cover decreased by 16%, young secondary forest increased by 18%, agricultural/cropland increased by 10%, and built-up area/bare soil increased by 3% from 1987 to 2014. The decrease in dense forest cover at 0.6% per year on average was driven by indiscriminate expansion of subsistence agricultural/cropland through shifting and fallow cultivation farming systems. Nonsignificant trends in total discharge, high flows, and low flows were observed in the large sub-watersheds of Mbalmayo and Olama from 1998 to 2013 with LULCC within the watershed. In contrast, significant decreasing trends in stream discharge (up to −5.1% and −5.9%), and significant increasing trends in high flows (up to 2.1% and 6.3%), respectively, were observed in the small sub-watersheds of Pont So’o and Messam from 1998 to 2013, particularly with increase in agricultural/cropland cover and decrease in dense forest cover. However, we found non-significant trends in mean annual discharge and low flows for all and whole watershed with LULCC. The results reveal spatially varying trends of stream discharge, low flows and high flows among the sub-watersheds with LULCC within the study watershed. The results suggest that the impacts of LULCC on watershed hydrology are easily detected in small sub-watersheds than in large sub-watersheds. Therefore, the magnitude of dense forest cover loss must be significantly greater than 16% to cause significant changes and common trends in the hydrology of the sub-watersheds of the southern portion of the Nyong River basin. The Mann-Kendall and Regression approaches show appreciable potential for modelling the impacts of LULCC on the hydrology of the southern portion of the Nyong River basin and for informing forest management.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Access options

Buy single article

Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.

US$ 39.95

Price includes VAT for USA


  1. Andreassian V (2004) Waters and forests: from historical controversy to scientific debate. Journal of Hydrology 291: 1–27.

  2. Bloschl G, Ardoin-Bardin S, Bonell M, et al. (2007) At what scales do climate variability and land cover change impact on flooding and low flows? Hydrological Processes 21: 1241–1247.

  3. Bi H, Sun G, Chang Y, Gao L (2014) Scale effects and variability of forest-water yield relationships on the Loess Plateau, China. Forest Chronology 90(2): 184–191.

  4. Bosch JM, Hewlett JD (1982) A review of catchment experiments to determine the effect of vegetation changes on water yield and evapotranspiration. Journal of Hydrology 55: 3–23.

  5. Bosch JM (1979) Treatment effects on annual and dry period streamflow at Cathedral Peak. South Africa Forest Journal 108: 29–38.

  6. Brown AE, Zhang L, McMahon TA, et al. (2005) A review of paired catchment studies for determining changes in water yield resulting from alterations in vegetation. Journal of Hydrology 310(1): 28–61.

  7. Bewket W, Sterk G (2005) Dynamics in land cover and its effect on stream flow in the Chemoga watershed, Blue Nile basin, Ethiopia. Hydrological Processes 19: 445–458.

  8. Bruijnzeel LA (2004) Hydrological functions of tropical forests: not seeing the soil for the trees. Agriculture Ecosystem and Environment 104: 185–228.

  9. Bruijnzeel LA (1990) Hydrology of Moist Tropical Forests and Effects of Conversion: A State of Knowledge Review. UNESCO International Hydrological Program. 224 pp.

  10. Burbank DW, Bookhagen B, Gabet EJ, Putkonen J (2012) Modern climate and erosion in the Himalaya. Comptes Rendus Geosciences 344(11–12): 610–626.

  11. Calder IRC (1998) Water-resource and land-use issues. Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Water Management Institute (IWMI). v, 24p. (SWIM paper 3).

  12. Ellison D, Futter MN, Bishop K (2012) On the Forest Cover-Water Yield Debate: From Demand-to Supply-Side Thinking. Global Change Biology 18(3): 806–820.

  13. Enku T, Taddesse A, Lijalem D (2014) Biohydrology of low flows in the humid Ethiopian highlands: the Gilgel Abay catchment. Biologia 69: 1502–1509.

  14. Ewane BE, Lee HH (2017) Tree-ring reconstruction of streamflow for Palgong Mountain forested watershed in southeastern South Korea. Journal of Mountain Science 14(1): 60–76.

  15. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) (2008) Forests and water. A thematic study prepared in the framework of the global forestry resources assessment 2005. Forestry Paper 155. ISBN 978-92-5-106090–2.

  16. Farley KA, Jobbagy EG, Jackson RB (2005) Effects of afforestation on water yield: a global synthesis with implications for policy. Global Change Biology 11(10): 1565–1576.

  17. Ford CR, Laseter SH, Swank WT, Vose JM (2011) Can forest management be used to sustain water-based ecosystem services in the face of climate change? Ecological Applications 21: 2049–2067.

  18. Gebrehiwot SG, Gardenas AI, Bewket W, et al. (2013) The long-term hydrology of East Africa’s water tower: statistical change detection in the watersheds of the Abbay Basin. Journal of Environmental Change 14(1): 321–332.

  19. Gaál L, Szolgay J, Kohnová S, et al. (2012) Flood timescales: understanding the interplay of climate and catchment processes through comparative hydrology. Water Resources Research 48: W04511.

  20. Gebremicael TG, Mohamed Y, Betrie GD, et al. (2013) Trend analysis of runoff and sediment fluxes in the Upper Blue Nile basin: a combined analysis of statistical tests, physically-based models and land use maps. Journal Hydrology 482: 57–68.

  21. Grelle MH, Ombolo A, Samba AP, Bineli A (2016) The impact of climate variabilities on the water resources of Nyong River (Cameroon) during few anterior decades. International Journal of Geosciences 7: 459–469.

  22. Guzha AC, Rufino MC, Okoth S, et al. (2018) Impacts of land use and land cover change on surface runoff, discharge and low flows: Evidence from East Africa. Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies 15: 49–67.

  23. Hibbert AR (1971) Increases in streamflow after converting chaparral to grass. Water Resources Research 7(1): 71–80.

  24. Ingwersen JB (1985) Fog drip, water yield, and timber harvesting in the Bull Run municipal watershed, Oregon. Water Resources Bulletin 21(3): 469–473.

  25. Jackson RB, Jobbagy EG, Avissar R, et al. (2005) Trading water for carbon with biological sequestration. Science 310(5756): 1944–1947.

  26. Johnson R (1998) The forest cycle and low river flows: a review of UK and international studies. Forest Ecology and Management 109(1–3): 1–7.

  27. Kashaigili JJ, Majaliwa AM (2013) Implications of land use and land cover changes on hydrological regimes of the Malagarasi River, Tanzania. Journal of Agriculture Science and Applications 2(1): 45–50.

  28. Lambin E, Geist H, Lepers E (2003) Dynamics of land-use and land-cover change in tropical regions. Annual Review of Environmental and Resources 28: 205–241.

  29. Lei C, Zhu L (2018) Spatio-temporal variability of land use/land cover change (LULCC) within the Huron River: Effects on stream flows. Climate Risk Management (19): 35–47.

  30. Liu W, Wei X, Fan H, et al. (2015) Response of flow regimes to deforestation and reforestation in a rain-dominated large watershed of subtropical China. Hydrological Processes 29: 5003–5015.

  31. Maréchal JC, Braun JJ, Riotte J, et al. (2011) Hydrological processes of a rainforest headwater swamp from natural chemical tracing in Nsimi watershed, Cameroon. Hydrological Processes 25: 2246–2260.

  32. McGuinness JL, Harrold L (1971) Reforestation influences on small watershed streamflow. Water Resources Research 7(4): 845–852.

  33. Merz R, Blöschl G (2009) A regional analysis of event runoff coefficients with respect to climate and catchment characteristics in Austria. Water Resources Research 45: W01405.

  34. Mohajane M, Essahlaoui A, Oudija F, et al. (2018) Land Use/Land Cover (LULC) Using Landsat Data Series (MSS, TM, ETM+ and OLI) in Azrou Forest, in the Central Middle Atlas of Morocco. Environments 5(131): 1–16.

  35. Molua EL, Lambi CM (2007) Climate, Hydrology and Water Resources in Cameroon. CEEPA publication, University of Pretoria.

  36. Mwangi HM, Julich S, Patil SD, et al. (2016) Relative contribution of land use change and climate variability on Discharge of upper Mara River, Kenya: Regional Studies. Journal of Hydrology 5: 244–260.

  37. Nóbrega RLB, Guzha AC, Torres GN, et al. (2017) Effects of conversion of native cerrado vegetation to pasture on soil hydrophysical properties, evapotranspiration and streamflow on the Amazonian agricultural frontier. PLoS One 12(6): e0179414.

  38. Paré S, Söderberg U, Sandewall M, Ouadba JM (2008) Land use analysis from spatial and field data capture in southern Burkina Faso, West Africa. Agriculture and Ecosystem Environment 127: 277–285.

  39. Rientjes TH, Haile AT, Kebede E, et al. (2011) Changes in land cover, rainfall and stream flow in Upper Gilgel Abbay catchment, Blue Nile basin-Ethiopia. Hydrological and Earth System Science 15: 979–1989.

  40. Shalaby A, Tateishi R (2007) Remote sensing and GIS for mapping and monitoring land cover and land-use changes in the Northwestern coastal zone of Egypt. Applied Geography 27(1): 28–41.

  41. Scott DF, Lesch W (1997) Streamflow responses to afforestation with Eucalyptus grandis and Pinus patula and to felling in the Mokobulaan experimental catchments, South Africa. Journal of Hydrology 199(3–4): 360–377.

  42. Stednick JD (1996) Monitoring the effects of timber harvest on annual water yield. Journal of Hydrology 176: 79–95.

  43. Sun G, Vose JM (2016) Forest Management Challenges for Sustaining Water Resources in the Anthropocene. Forests 7(68): 1–13.

  44. Tesemma ZK, Mohamed YA, Steenhuis TS (2010) Trends in rainfall and runoff in the Blue Nile Basin: 1964–2003. Hydrological Processes 24: 3747–3758.

  45. Troendle CA, King RM (1985) The effect of timber harvest on the Fool Creek watershed, 30 years later. Water Resources Research 21(12): 1915–1922.

  46. van Noordwijk M, Tanika L, Lusiana B (2017) Flood risk reduction and flow buffering as ecosystem services — part 1: theory on flow persistence, flashiness and base flow. Hydrology and Earth System Science 21: 2321–2340.

  47. Verhegghen A, Eva H, Desclée B, Achard F (2016) Review and combination of recent remote sensing based products for forest cover change assessments in Cameroon. International Forestry Review 18(S1): 14–25.

  48. Vose JM, Ford CR, Laseter S, et al. (2012) Can forest watershed management mitigate climate change effects on water resources? In: Webb AA, Bonell M, Leon L, et al. (eds). Revisiting Experimental Catchment Studies in Forest Hydrology. Proceedings of a Workshop held during the XXV IUGG General Assembly in Melbourne, June 27–July 8 2011. IAHS Publication 353: 12–25.

  49. Wagner PD, Kuma S, Schneider K (2013) An assessment of land use change impacts on the water resources of the Mula and Mutha Rivers catchment upstream of Pune, India. Hydrology Earth System Science 17: 2233–2246.

  50. Wagesho N (2014) Catchment dynamics and its impact on runoff generation: coupling watershed modeling and statistical analysis to detect catchment responses. International Journal Water Resources and Environmental Engineering 6(2): 73–87.

  51. Yanda PZ, Munishi PKT (2007) Hydrologic and land use/cover change analysis for the Ruvu River and Sigi River watersheds. Report to WWF/CARE for the Equitable Payment for Watershed Services Project. p 87. (, accessed on 2019-01-30.)

  52. Yira Y, Diekkrüger B, Steup G, Bossa AY (2016) Modeling land use change impacts on water resources in a tropical West African catchment (Dano, Burkina Faso). Journal of Hydrology 537: 187–199.

Download references


The authors are deeply grateful to the Observatory for Environment Research (ORE) in the project “Experimental Tropical Watersheds” (SO BVET) funded by IRD, INSU, and OMP for making available the hydrological and climatic data of the Nyong River basin under open access.

Author information

Correspondence to Basil Ewane Ewane.

Electronic supplementary material

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Ewane, B.E., Lee, H.H. Assessing land use/land cover change impacts on the hydrology of Nyong River Basin, Cameroon. J. Mt. Sci. 17, 50–67 (2020) doi:10.1007/s11629-019-5611-8

Download citation


  • Land cover
  • Land use
  • Stream discharge
  • Linear regression modeling
  • Nyong River basin
  • Mann-Kendall test