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Effects of native forest restoration on soil hydraulic properties, Auwahi, Maui, Hawaiian Islands

April 2, 2012

Over historic time Hawai'i's dryland forests have been largely replaced by grasslands for grazing livestock. On-going efforts have been undertaken to restore dryland forests to bring back native species and reduce erosion. The reestablishment of native ecosystems on land severely degraded by long-term alternative use requires reversal of the impacts of erosion, organic-matter loss, and soil structural damage on soil hydraulic properties. This issue is perhaps especially critical in dryland forests where the soil must facilitate native plants' optimal use of limited water. These reforestation efforts depend on restoring soil ecological function, including soil hydraulic properties. We hypothesized that reforestation can measurably change soil hydraulic properties over restoration timescales. At a site on the island of Maui (Hawai'i, USA), we measured infiltration capacity, hydrophobicity, and abundance of preferential flow channels in a deforested grassland and in an adjacent area where active reforestation has been going on for fourteen years. Compared to the nearby deforested rangeland, mean field-saturated hydraulic conductivity in the newly restored forest measured by 55 infiltrometer tests was greater by a factor of 2.0. Hydrophobicity on an 8-point scale increased from average category 6.0 to 6.9. A 4-point empirical categorization of preferentiality in subsurface wetting patterns increased from an average 1.3 in grasslands to 2.6 in the restored forest. All of these changes act to distribute infiltrated water faster and deeper, as appropriate for native plant needs. This study indicates that vegetation restoration can lead to ecohydrologically important changes in soil hydraulic properties over decadal time scales.

Publication Year 2012
Title Effects of native forest restoration on soil hydraulic properties, Auwahi, Maui, Hawaiian Islands
DOI 10.1029/2012GL051120
Authors Kimberlie S. Perkins, John R. Nimmo, Arthur C. Medeiros
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geophysical Research Letters
Index ID 70037758
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Branch of Regional Research-Western Region; Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center