Original Research - Special Collection: Granite catena ecosystem

Hydrological response in a savanna hillslope under different rainfall regimes

Johan van Tol, Stefan Julich, Darren Bouwer, Edward S. Riddell
Koedoe | Vol 62, No 2 | a1602 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/koedoe.v62i2.1602 | © 2020 Johan van Tol, Stefan Julich, Darren Bouwer, Edward S. Riddell | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 11 October 2019 | Published: 29 October 2020

About the author(s)

Johan van Tol, Department of Soil, Crop and Climate Sciences, Faculty of Science and Agriculture, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Stefan Julich, Institute of Soil Science and Site Ecology, Technical University of Dresden, Dresden, Germany
Darren Bouwer, Department of Soil, Crop and Climate Sciences, Faculty of Science and Agriculture, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Edward S. Riddell, Department of Conservation Management, South African National Parks, Skukuza; Centre for Water Resources Research, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa


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Abstract

Soil water is a link between precipitation and the functioning of ecological systems. It is therefore critical to understand exactly how soil water regimes are affected by changes in precipitation. This is especially true for the variable water regimes of savanna ecosystems. Therefore, understanding the effects of precipitation on soil water was the central goal of this article. The hydropedological behaviour of a catena in the Stevenson Hamilton Research Supersite of the Kruger National Park was configured as a conceptual model of catchment modelling framework, a toolbox of various model structures and processes. The model was parameterised using measured hydraulic properties of the soils, and calibrated and validated using measured soil matric potentials and derived actual evapotranspiration (aET) data. The model was then used to simulate hydrological response under five different rainfall scenarios, ranging from 30% drier than the normal rainfall to 30% wetter than the normal rainfall. The scenarios also included rainfall years with fewer but larger rain events, that is, more intense rainfall events. In general, the model performed well with Pearson’s correlation coefficient (R) values ranging between 0.66 and 0.87 and between 0.58 and 0.69 for correlations with daily soil matric potential and daily aET, respectively. Scenario analysis indicates non-linearity in the response of hydrological processes to changes in precipitation. This is especially evident in a seven-fold increase in the duration of saturation at the seepage surface associated with a 30% increase in rainfall. In general, the impact of drying conditions (30% below average rain) has a greater influence on soil water contents, overland flow and percolation from the riparian zone to bedrock than a 30% increase in rainfall would have on the same process.

Conservation implications: This article presents realistic predictions of the potential impact of changes in precipitation on hydrological processes in an important area of the Kruger National Park. These predictions would enable decision-makers to be prepared for the anticipated changes in near-surface hydrological processes associated with climate changes.


Keywords

Hydropedology; Hydrological modelling; Soil water; Catchment modelling framework; Kruger National Park

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