Impacts of thinning of a Mediterranean oak forest on soil properties influencing water infiltration

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Abstract

In Mediterranean ecosystems, special attention needs to be paid to forest–water relationships due to water scarcity. In this context, Adaptive Forest Management (AFM) has the objective to establish how forest resources have to be managed with regards to the efficient use of water, which needs maintaining healthy soil properties even after disturbance. The main objective of this investigation was to understand the effect of one of the AFM methods, namely forest thinning, on soil hydraulic properties. At this aim, soil hydraulic characterization was performed on two contiguous Mediterranean oak forest plots, one of them thinned to reduce the forest density from 861 to 414 tree per ha. Three years after the intervention, thinning had not affected soil water permeability of the studied plots. Both ponding and tension infiltration runs yielded not significantly different saturated, Ks, and unsaturated, K−20, hydraulic conductivity values at the thinned and control plots. Therefore, thinning had no an adverse effect on vertical water fluxes at the soil surface. Mean Ks values estimated with the ponded ring infiltrometer were two orders of magnitude higher than K−20 values estimated with the minidisk infiltrometer, revealing probably soil structure with macropores and fractures. The input of hydrophobic organic matter, as a consequence of the addition of plant residues after the thinning treatment, resulted in slight differences in terms of both water drop penetration time, WDPT, and the index of water repellency, R, between thinned and control plots. Soil water repellency only affected unsaturated soil hydraulic conductivity measurements. Moreover, K−20 values showed a negative correlation with both WDPT and R, whereas Ks values did not, revealing that the soil hydrophobic behavior has no impact on saturated hydraulic conductivity.

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