elevational gradients

Water and energy budgets of rain forests along an elevation gradient under maritime tropical conditions

Holwerda, F., 2005. Water and Energy Budgets of Rain Forests Along an Elevational Gradient Under Maritime Tropical Conditions. PhD Thesis, VU University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

From the hydrological point of view, mountains present somewhat of a paradox. Although they provide the bulk of the Earth’s freshwater resources, knowledge of the hydrological functioning of mountainous areas is generally much less extensive, reliable, and precise than that of other, often more easily accessible physiographic regions. Indeed, mountain regions have been referred to as ‘the blackest of black boxes in the hydrological cycle’ (Bandyopadhyay et al., 1997). Data collection networks are more difficult to set up and maintain in complex mountainous terrain, particularly in uninhabited forested headwater areas without road access, and minimum recommended instrumental densities are rarely met (Manley and Askew, 1993). Whilst the hydrological knowledge base on mountains in general has increased considerably in the last few decades, most montane research work has focused on determining catchment water and sediment outputs and their distribution in time and space; snow cover and glacier dynamics; or flood frequencies (Molnar, 1990; Lang and Musy, 1990; Bergmann et al., 1991; Young, 1992; Hofer, 1998), as opposed to the underlying hydrological processes (cf. Bonell, 1993). Until very recently (e.g. Motzer, 2003; Schellekens et al., 2004; Goller et al., 2005), the vast majority of this work dealt with mountains in the temperate zone, with very little pertaining to forested tropical mountains (see summaries of early research by Bruijnzeel and Proctor (1995) and Bruijnzeel (2001)). Knowledge of such processes would serve as a basis for increased understanding of how streamflows emanating from tropical mountains might change as a result of changes in climate, including the lifting condensation level, frequency and density of clouds and, by implication, water inputs and evaporative losses (Bruijnzeel, 2001). The average cloud condensation level on tropical islands can be as low as 600-800 m (Malkus, 1955), although on larger mountains situated further inland this may be closer to 2,000 m (Stadtmüller, 1987). Above this condensation level, the hydrology of the forest changes profoundly because of contributions of cloud water (i.e. fog) deposited to the forest canopy (Bruijnzeel, 2001). There is circumstantial evidence that complete conversion of these ‘tropical montane cloud forests’ (TMCF) to pasture or vegetable cropping may have an adverse effect on dry season flows or even on total water yield because of strongly diminished fog interception after clearing (Ingwersen, 1985; Brown et al., 1996). Similar effects may be expected when the average cloud condensation level is raised because of warming of the atmosphere due to global climate change (Still et al., 1999; Foster, 2001), or clearing of forest at lower elevations (Lawton et al., 2001; Van der Molen, 2002).

Streams of the Montane Humid Tropics

Tropical montane streams produce a disproportionately large amount of the sediment and carbon that reaches coastal regions and have often been considered to be distinct fluvial systems. They typically drain orogenic terrains that have not been recently glaciated, but have undergone climatic changes throughout the Pleistocene and currently receive 2000–3000 mm or more of precipitation each year. Steep gradient reaches with numerous boulders, rapids, and waterfalls that alternate with lower gradient reaches flowing over weathered rock or a thin veneer of coarse alluvium characterize these streams. Although their morphology and hydrology have distinctive characteristics, they do not appear to have diagnostic landforms that can be solely attributed to their low-latitude locations. While they are relatively understudied, an emerging view is that their distinctiveness results from a combination of high rates of chemical and physical weathering and a high frequency of significant geomorphic events rather than the absolute magnitudes of individual floods or other geomorphic processes. Their bedrock reaches and abundance of large and relatively immobile boulders combined with their ability to transport finer-grained sediment also suggest that the restorative processes in these systems may be less responsive than in other fluvial systems.

Variation in nutrient characteristics of surface soils from the Luquillo Experimental Forest of Puerto Rico: A multivariate perspective

Cox, S. B.; Willig, M. R.; Scatena,F. N.; 2002. Variation in nutrient characteristics of surface soils from the Luquillo Experimental Forest of Puerto Rico: A multivariate perspective.. Plant and Soil 247 : 189-198.

We assessed the effects of landscape features (vegetation type and topography), season, and spatial hierarchy on the nutrient content of surface soils in the Luquillo Experimental Forest (LEF) of Puerto Rico. Considerable spatial variation characterized the soils of the LEF, and differences between replicate sites within each combination of vegetation type (tabonuco vs. palo colorado vs. dwarf vs. pasture) and topographic position (ridge vs valley) accounted for 11–60% of the total variation in soil properties. Nevertheless, mean soil properties differed significantly among vegetation types, between topographic positions, and between seasons (wet vs dry). Differences among vegetation types reflected soil properties (e.g., bulk density, soil moisture, Na, P, C, N, S) that typically are related to biological processes and inputs of water. In forests, differences between topographic positions reflected elements (e.g., Ca, Mg, K, and Al) that typically are associated with geochemical processes; however, the nutrients and elements responsible for topographic differences in dwarf forest were different from those in other forest types. In pastures, differences between topographic positions were associated with the same soil properties responsible for differences among the other vegetation types. Pastures also had reduced N levels and different soil characteristics compared to undisturbed tabonuco forest. The only soil parameter that differed significantly between seasons was soil moisture. Soils of the LEF do not support the contention that N becomes limiting with an increase in elevation, and suggest that absolute pool sizes of N and P are not responsible for the reduction in productivity with elevation.
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