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Overstory–Understory Vegetation Cover and Soil Water Content Observations in Western Juniper Woodlands: A Paired Watershed Study in Central Oregon, USA

Ray, Grace, Ochoa, Carlos G., Deboodt, Tim, Mata-Gonzalez, Ricardo
Forests 2019 v.10 no.2
Juniperus occidentalis, annuals, canopy, ecosystems, grasses, landscapes, long term effects, perennials, seasonal variation, shrubs, soil texture, spring, streams, subsurface flow, topsoil, topsoil water content, trees, understory, vegetation cover, water content, watersheds, wet season, woodlands, Oregon
The effects of western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) control on understory vegetation and soil water content were studied at the watershed-scale. Seasonal differences in topsoil (12 cm) water content, as affected by vegetation structure and soil texture, were evaluated in a 96-ha untreated watershed and in a 116-ha watershed where 90% juniper was removed in 2005. A watershed-scale characterization of vegetation canopy cover and soil texture was completed to determine some of the potential driving factors influencing topsoil water content fluctuations throughout dry and wet seasons for approximately one year (2014&ndash;2015). We found greater perennial grass, annual grass, and shrub cover in the treated watershed. Forb cover was no different between watersheds, and as expected, tree canopy cover was greater in the untreated watershed. Results also show that on average, topsoil water content was 1% to 3% greater in the treated watershed. The exception was during one of the wettest months (March) evaluated, when soil water content in the untreated watershed exceeded that of the treated by <2%. It was noted that soil water content levels that accumulated in areas near valley bottoms and streams were greater in the treated watershed than in the untreated toward the end of the study in late spring. This is consistent with results obtained from a more recent study where we documented an increase in subsurface flow residence time in the treated watershed. Overall, even though average soil water content differences between watersheds were not starkly different, the fact that more herbaceous vegetation and shrub cover were found in the treated watershed led us to conclude that the long-term effects of juniper removal on soil water content redistribution throughout the landscape may be beneficial towards restoring important ecohydrologic connections in these semiarid ecosystems of central Oregon.