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Water inputs across a tropical montane landscape in Veracruz, Mexico: synergistic effects of land cover, rain and fog seasonality, and interannual precipitation variability


A. G. Ponette-González, tel. +(845) 677-7600 ext. 137, fax +(845) 677-5976, e-mail:


Land-cover change can alter the spatiotemporal distribution of water inputs to mountain ecosystems, an important control on land-surface and land-atmosphere hydrologic fluxes. In eastern Mexico, we examined the influence of three widespread land-cover types, montane cloud forest, coffee agroforestry, and cleared areas, on total and net water inputs to soil. Stand structural characteristics, as well as rain, fog, stemflow, and throughfall (water that falls through the canopy) water fluxes were measured across 11 sites during wet and dry seasons from 2005 to 2008. Land-cover type had a significant effect on annual and seasonal net throughfall (NTF <0=canopy water retention plus canopy evaporation; NTF >0=fog water deposition). Forest canopies retained and/or lost to evaporation (i.e. NTF<0) five- to 11-fold more water than coffee agroforests. Moreover, stemflow was fourfold higher under coffee shade than forest trees. Precipitation seasonality and phenological patterns determined the magnitude of these land-cover differences, as well as their implications for the hydrologic cycle. Significant negative relationships were found between NTF and tree leaf area index (R2=0.38, P<0.002), NTF and stand basal area (R2=0.664, P<0.002), and stemflow and epiphyte loading (R2=0.414, P<0.001). These findings indicate that leaf and epiphyte surface area reductions associated with forest conversion decrease canopy water retention/evaporation, thereby increasing throughfall and stemflow inputs to soil. Interannual precipitation variability also altered patterns of water redistribution across this landscape. Storms and hurricanes resulted in little difference in forest-coffee wet season NTF, while El Niño Southern Oscillation was associated with a twofold increase in dry season rain and fog throughfall water deposition. In montane headwater regions, changes in water delivery to canopies and soils may affect infiltration, runoff, and evapotranspiration, with implications for provisioning (e.g. water supply) and regulating (e.g. flood mitigation) ecosystem services.

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