Evaluating the bio-hydrological impact of a cloud forest in Central America using a semi-distributed water balance model

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Water scarcity poses a major threat to food security and human health in Central America and is increasingly recognized as a pressing regional issues caused primarily by deforestation and population pressure. Tools that can reliably simulate the major components of the water balance with the limited data available and needed to drive management decision and protect water supplies in this region. Four adjacent forested headwater catchments in La Tigra National Park, Honduras, ranging in size from 70 to 635 ha were instrumented and discharge measured over a one year period. A semi-distributed water balance model was developed to characterize the bio-hydrology of the four catchments, one of which is primarily cloud forest cover. The water balance model simulated daily stream discharges well, with Nash Sutcliffe model efficiency (E) values ranging from 0.67 to 0.90. Analysis of calibrated model parameters showed that despite all watersheds having similar geologic substrata, the bio-hydrological response the cloud forest indicated less plantavailable water in the root zone and greater groundwater recharge than the non cloud forest cover catchments. This resulted in watershed discharge on a per area basis four times greater from the cloud forest than the other watersheds despite only relatively minor differences in annual rainfall. These results highlight the importance of biological factors (cloud forests in this case) for sustained provision of clean, potable water, and the need to protect the cloud forest areas from destruction, particularly in the populated areas of Central America.

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