Effect of vegetation on soil water retention and storage in a semi-arid alpine forest catchment

Abstract

The runoff generated from mountainous regions is recognized as the main water source for inland river basins in arid environments. Thus, the mechanisms by which catchments retain water in soils are to be understood. The water storage capacity of soil depends on its depth and capacity to retain water under gravitational drainage and evapotranspiration. The latter can be studied through soil water retention curve (SWRC), which is closely related to soil properties such as texture, bulk density, porosity, soil organic carbon content, and so on. The present study represented SWRCs using HYDRUS-1D. In the present study, we measured physical and hydraulic properties of soil samples collected from Sabina przewalskii forest (south-facing slope with highest solar radiation), shrubs (west-facing slope with medium radiation), and Picea crassifolia forest (north-facing slope with lowest radiation), and analyzed the differences in soil water storage capacity of these soil samples. Soil water content of those three vegetation covers were also measured to validate the soil water storage capacity and to analyze the relationship between soil organic matter content and soil water content. Statistical analysis showed that different vegetation covers could lead to different soil bulk densities and differences in soil water retention on the three slope aspects. Sand content, porosity, and organic carbon content of the P. crassifolia forest were relatively greater compared with those of the S. przewalskii forest and shrubs. However, silt content and soil bulk density were relatively smaller than those in the S. przewalskii forest and shrubs. In addition, there was a significant linear positive relationship between averaged soil water content and soil organic matter content (P<0.0001). However, this relationship is not significant in the P. crassifolia forest. As depicted in the SWRCs, the water storage capacity of the soil was 39.14% and 37.38% higher in the P. crassifolia forest than in the S. przewalskii forest and shrubs, respectively, at a similar soil depth.

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Correspondence to ChuanYan Zhao.

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Wang, C., Zhao, C., Xu, Z. et al. Effect of vegetation on soil water retention and storage in a semi-arid alpine forest catchment. J. Arid Land 5, 207–219 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40333-013-0151-5

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Keywords

  • vegetation
  • soil water storage
  • soil properties
  • soil water retention curve
  • forest catchment
  • Heihe River