Effects of land use on the hydrologic regime, vegetation, and hydraulic conductivity of peatlands in the central Peruvian Andes

Eduardo Oyague, David J. Cooper, Eusebio Ingol

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The vegetation, geographic distribution, and pastoralist uses of peatlands in the central Andes have been extensively studied over the past 20 years. However, little information exists to characterize the hydrologic processes that support these groundwater-dependent ecosystems or the hydrologic alterations occurring due to human activities or climate changes. This lack of information significantly limits our understanding of how the central Andean Puna, one of the world's most threatened ecoregions, may be altered by increasing temperature and water extraction for human use. In addition, these peatlands provide critical pasture for native and domestic livestock and carbon storage, but overgrazing is an important modifier of their ecological trajectories. We analyzed three groundwater-fed fen peatlands with differing hydrologic regimes, annual precipitation, land use, and vegetation composition. Water table depth was a key factor significantly contributing to differences in soil hydraulic conductivity (p < 0.05) and vegetation composition (p < 0.05). Saturated hydraulic conductivity (K) varied from 0.57 m day−1 to 0.03 m day−1 for the horizontal component (Kh) and 0.07 to 0.002 m day−1 for the vertical component (Kv). The principal differences in K were in the seasonally unsaturated upper soil layers at 0–75 cm depth. The annual deepening in the water table and Distichia muscoides dominance drive the variability in K for these layers. Those drivers were themselves correlated but can individually modify K, increasing the decomposition rate and porosity (WT deepening) and altering the initial peat structure (D. muscoides dominance). Three vegetation communities were identified, one in sites with the deepest water tables, the lowest hydraulic conductivities, and dominance of Werneria pygmaea and Plantago rigida. The second community, dominated by bunch grasses in the genus Calamagrostis, occurred in areas with the most variable water table and medium hydraulic conductivity. The third community occurred in the most hydrologically stable areas, with the shallowest water table, highest hydraulic conductivities, and was dominated by Distichia muscoides. The study peatlands appear to have originated as the third community – groundwater-supported fens dominated by Distichia muscoides cushion and pool communities. However, modern hydrologic changes caused by human land uses and climate variability have caused a divergence in the vegetation, and in the more disturbed sites created higher decomposition rates in the shallow peat layers, and differences in soil structure.

Idioma originalInglés
Número de artículo127687
PublicaciónJournal of Hydrology
EstadoPublicada - jun. 2022
Publicado de forma externa


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