Forest restoration and hydrological parameters effects on soil water conditions: a structural equation modelling approach

ABSTRACT Although the effects of land use changes on hydrological functioning are widely addressed, issues such as which components of the hydrological system are affected, how and on what time scales are still poorly understood. In this context, we evaluated whether forest restoration improves soil water conditions in a Cerrado area, and whether the combined effects of forest structure and hydrological variables influence soil attributes. For this, we monitored three areas in different stages of natural succession over seven months, and evaluated vegetation structure indicators, hydrological indicators and soil indicators. Vegetation structure variables were analyzed with Principal Components Analysis, and to evaluate the direct and indirect effects among the variables we used structural equations modelling. Each successional stage differed in relation to forest structure, affecting the hydrological processes and causing the improvement of soil attributes with forest development. In the initial stage, throughfall was higher due to the more open vegetation, and the soil was more resistant to penetration. With the development of the vegetation, stemflow and interception also increased. As a result of the structural and hydrological changes, the model indicated that soil moisture was influenced directly by throughfall and stemflow, as well as by soil resistance to penetration and infiltration rates, and indirectly by forest structure, which influenced these variables, except infiltration rates. These results suggest that hydrological variables can be good indicators of forest restoration monitoring, providing a direct link to changes in soil conditions.