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Quickflow response to forest harvesting and recovery in a northern hardwood forest landscape

Buttle, James M., Webster, Kara L., Hazlett, Paul W., Jeffries, Dean S.
Hydrological processes 2019 v.33 no.1 pp. 47-65
clearcutting, deciduous forests, growing season, hardwood forests, harvesting, landscapes, logging, rhizosphere, sediment transport, shelterwood systems, soil, solutes, stream channels, temporal variation, watersheds, Ontario
Forest harvesting often increases catchment quickflow (QF, water delivered rapidly to the stream channel), a metric of high‐flow events controlling a catchment's solute and sediment export. Nevertheless, our understanding of QF responses to various silvicultural strategies (e.g., clearcutting, selection harvest, and shelterwood harvest) is incomplete. We present a 31‐year examination of QF delivery from treatment (clearcut, selection harvest, and shelterwood harvest) and control catchments in a deciduous forest landscape in central Ontario, Canada. Growing season root‐zone storage capacity was estimated using a water balance approach to evaluate temporal changes in QF response to precipitation (P) for pretreatment and posttreatment periods. Threshold relationships between QF and P were assessed for control and treatment catchments for pretreatment and posttreatment periods using piecewise regression. Root‐zone storage capacity demarcated shifts in the hydrologic regime arising from forest harvesting and subsequent regeneration. This was particularly pronounced for clearcutting where postharvest decline in root‐zone storage capacity was followed by a rise to preharvest values. Similar pretreatment threshold relationships between QF and P, and near‐identical P thresholds for producing significant QF, reflected similar soil and overburden depths in the catchments. Harvesting effects were indicated by increases in QF/P ratios for relative small P and the number of P events that generated QF, thus changing treatment QF vs. P threshold relationships. Prior to harvesting there was no significant increase in QF with P below a threshold P of 35–45 mm; however, there was a significant QF vs. P relationship below this threshold for all treatments postharvest. Clearcutting increased the number of QF events for the entire postharvest period and the first 9‐year postharvest compared to the other treatments; nevertheless, evidence for intertreatment differences in total QF depth delivered from the catchments during the growing season was inconclusive. Our work suggests that changes in threshold relationships between QF and P, coupled with knowledge of the physical processes underlying them, are useful when evaluating hydrologic responses to forest harvesting.