Comparison of streamflow recession between plantations and native forests in small catchments in Central-Southern Chile
School of Science / Centre for Ecosystem Management
Chilean Scientific Council doctoral scholarship ANID-PFCHA/Doctorado Nacional/2021-21210861
In central Chile, many communities rely on water obtained from small catchments in the coastal mountains. Water security for these communities is most vulnerable during the summer dry season and, from 2010 to 2017, rainfall during the dry season was between 20% and 40% below the long-term average. The rate of decrease in stream flow after a rainfall event is a good measure of the risk of flow decreasing below a critical threshold. This risk of low flow can be quantified using a recession coefficient (α) that is the slope of an exponential decay function relating flow to time since rainfall. A mathematical model was used to estimate the recession coefficient (α) for 142 rainstorm events (64 in summer; 78 in winter) in eight monitored catchments between 2008 and 2017. These catchments all have a similar geology and extend from 35 to 39 degrees of latitude south in the coastal range of south-central Chile. A hierarchical cluster analysis was used to test for differences between the mean value of α for different regions and forest types in winter and summer. The value of α did not differ (p < 0.05) between catchments in winter. Some differences were observed during summer and these were attributed to morphological differences between catchments and, in the northernmost catchments, the effect of land cover (native forest and plantation). Moreover, α for catchments with native forest was similar to those with pine plantations, although there was no difference (p < 0.05) between these and Eucalyptus plantations. The recession constant is a well-established method for understanding the effect of climate and disturbance on low flows and baseflows and can enhance local and regional analyses of hydrological processes. Understanding the recession of flow after rainfall in small headwater catchments, especially during summer, is vital for water resources management in areas where the establishment of plantations has occurred in a drying climate.