The groundwater recharge response and hydrologic services of tropical humid forest ecosystems to use and reforestation: support for the "inflitration-evapotranspiration trade- off hypothesis"

Jagdish Krishnaswamy, Mike Bonell, Basappa Venkatesh, Bekal K. Purandara, K. N. Rakesh, Sharachchandra Lele, M. C. Kirin, Veerabasawant Reddy, Shrinivas Badiger

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    84 Citations (Scopus)


    The hydrologic effects of forest use and reforestation of degraded lands in the humid tropics has implications for local and regional hydrologic services but such issues have been relatively less studied when compared to the impacts of forest conversion. In particular, the “infiltration-evapotranspiration trade-off” hypothesis which predicts a net gain or loss to baseflow and dry-season flow under both forest degradation or reforestation depending on conditions has not been tested adequately. In the Western Ghats of India, we examined the hydrologic responses and groundwater recharge and hydrologic services linked with three ecosystems, (1) remnant tropical evergreen forest (NF), (2) heavily-used former evergreen forest which now has been converted to tree savanna, known as degraded forest(DF), and (3) exotic Acacia plantations (AC, Acacia auriculiformis) on degraded former forest land. Instrumented catchments ranging from 7 to 23 ha representing these three land-covers (3 NF, 4 AC and 4 DF, in total 11 basins), were established and maintained between 2003-2005 at three sites in two geomorphological zones, Coastal and Up-Ghat (Malnaad). Four larger (1 - 2 km2 )catchments downstream of the head-water catchments in the Malnaad with varying proportions of different land-cover and providing irrigation water for arecanut and paddy rice were also measured for post-monsoon baseflow. Daily hydrological and climate data was available at all the sites. In addition, 36 minute data was available at the Coastal site for 41 days as part of the opening phase of the summer monsoon, June-July 2005.
    Low potential and actual evapotranspiration rates during the monsoon that are similar across all land-cover ensures that the main control on the extent of groundwater recharge during the south-west monsoon is the proportion of rainfall that is converted into quick flow rather than differences in evapotranspiration between the different land cover types. The Flow Duration Curves demonstrated a higher frequency and longer duration of low flows under NF when compared to the other more disturbed land covers in both the Coastal and Malnaad basins. Groundwater recharge estimated using water balance during the wet-season in the Coastal basins under NF, AC and DF was estimated to be 50 %, 46 % and 35 % respectively and in the Malnaad it was 61%, 55% and 36% respectively. Soil Water Infiltration and Movement (SWIM) based recharge estimates also support the pattern (46 % in NF; 39 % in AC and 14 % in DF). Furey-Gupta filter based estimates associated with the Coastal basins also suggest similar groundwater recharge values and trends across the respective land-covers: 69% in NF, 49% in AC, and 42% in DF. Soil water potential profiles using zero flux plane methods suggest that during the dry-season, natural forests depend on deep soil moisture and groundwater. Catchments with higher proportion of forest cover upstream were observed to sustain flow longer into the dry-season. These hydrologic responses provide some support towards the “Infiltration- Evapotranspiration trade-off” hypothesis in which differences in infiltration between land-cover rather than evapotranspiration determines the differences in groundwater recharge, low flows and dry-season flow. Groundwater recharge is the most temporally stable under natural forest, although substantial recharge occurs under all three ecosystems, which helps to sustain dry-season flow downstream in higher order streams that sustain local communities and agro-ecosystems. In addition to spatial scale effects, greater attention also needs to be given to the role of hydrogeology within the context of the above hypothesis and its implications for hydrologic services.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)191-209
    Number of pages20
    JournalJournal of Hydrology
    Publication statusPublished - 19 Aug 2013


    • Infiltration, evapotranspiration, groundwater recharge, Western Ghats, hydrologic services, tropical forests.


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