The aim of this work was to assess how forest ecosystems dominated by Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) or European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) affect snow water equivalent (SWE) in relation to aspect and elevation. The research plots were established in a small headwater watershed of the Hučava flow belonging to the Poľana Biosphere Reserve (Central Europe, Inner Western Carpathians). The SWE values in this watershed (approximately 580–1270 m a.s.l.) were monitored during the three winter seasons starting from 2012–2013 to 2014–2015. The results revealed high variability in SWE and in snow cover duration between the studied seasons. The spatial variability was significantly affected by the forest ecosystem, aspect and elevation. The seasonal mean SWE value was lower by about 50–60% in the spruce forests and by about 21–30% in the beech forests compared to the open areas (100%). Over the whole seasons, the whole watershed mean SWE value on the slopes with the northern aspect was mostly higher compared to the slopes with the southern aspect. The effect of aspect was significant mainly in the open areas and in the forests dominated by European beech during the ablation periods of every season. In the case of the sufficient snow cover, the mean SWE value always increased with elevation. The elevation gradient of SWE was steepest at the open areas of the watershed in the peaks of the winter seasons. The three-season mean value of SWE elevation gradient (per 100 m) at the time of snow accumulation peak was equal to 16 mm in the spruce forests, 20 mm in the beech forests and 26 mm in the open areas. The research revealed that SWE is significantly affected by the forest ecosystem whilst its effect is dependent on the occurrence of dominant deciduous or coniferous tree species. However, the effect of forests is closely related to topographic characteristics (aspect and elevation) of a locality.
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