Differential Snowpack Accumulation and Water Dynamics in Aspen and Conifer Communities: Implications for Water Yield and Ecosystem Function

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Springer Verlag

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Early succession aspen and late succession conifer forests have different architecture and physiology affecting hydrologic transfer processes. An evaluation of water pools and fluxes was used to determine differences in the hydrologic dynamics between stands of quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) and associated stands of mixed conifer consisting of white fir (Abies concolor), Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), and Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii). In 2005 and 2006, measurements of snow water accumulation, snow ablation (melt), soil water content, snowpack sublimation, and evapotranspiration (ET) were measured in adjacent aspen and conifer stands. Peak snow water equivalent (SWE) averaged 34–44% higher in aspen in 2005 (average snow fall) and 2006 (above average snow fall), respectively, whereas snow ablation rates were greater in aspen stands (21 mm day−1) compared to conifer stands (11 mm day−1). When changes in soil water content (due to over-winter snowmelt) were combined with peak snow accumulation in 2006, aspen had greater potential (42–83%) water yield for runoff and groundwater recharge. Snowpack sublimation during the ablation period was not significantly different between meadow, aspen, and conifer sites and comprised less than 5% of the winter precipitation. Extended conifer transpiration in spring and fall did not contribute to large differences in water yield (y−1). Summertime ET rates were higher in aspen plots (3.6 mm day−1) than in conifer plots (2.7 mm day−1), and differences in net ET largely reflected soil column porosity. This study shows that the largest differences in annual water yield between aspen and conifer stands result from differences in SWE and net summertime ET. Although SWE and accumulation of water in soil was greater in aspen, it was partly offset by greater net annual ET losses in aspen.


Originally published by Springer Verlag.