Hydrological effects of forest transpiration loss in bark beetle-impacted watersheds

Nature Climate Change
By: , and 

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Abstract

The recent climate-exacerbated mountain pine beetle infestation in the Rocky Mountains of North America has resulted in tree death that is unprecedented in recorded history. The spatial and temporal heterogeneity inherent in insect infestation creates a complex and often unpredictable watershed response, influencing the primary storage and flow components of the hydrologic cycle. Despite the increased vulnerability of forested ecosystems under changing climate1, watershed-scale implications of interception, ground evaporation, and transpiration changes remain relatively unknown, with conflicting reports of streamflow perturbations across regions. Here, contributions to streamflow are analysed through time and space to investigate the potential for increased groundwater inputs resulting from hydrologic change after infestation. Results demonstrate that fractional late-summer groundwater contributions from impacted watersheds are 30 ± 15% greater after infestation and when compared with a neighbouring watershed that experienced earlier and less-severe attack, albeit uncertainty propagations through time and space are considerable. Water budget analysis confirms that transpiration loss resulting from beetle kill can account for the relative increase in groundwater contributions to streams, often considered the sustainable flow fraction and critical to mountain water supplies and ecosystems.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Hydrological effects of forest transpiration loss in bark beetle-impacted watersheds
Series title Nature Climate Change
DOI 10.1038/nclimate2198
Volume 4
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher Nature Publishing Group
Contributing office(s) Colorado Water Science Center
Description 6 p.
First page 481
Last page 486
Country United States
State Colorado
Other Geospatial Rocky Mountain National Park
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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