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Open Access item From plot to regional scales: Interactions of slope and catchment hydrological and geomorphic processes in the Spanish Pyrenees

Authors:García-Ruiz, José María
Lana-Renault, Noemí
Beguería, Santiago
Lasanta Martínez, Teodoro
Regüés-Muñoz, D.
Nadal-Romero, Estela
Serrano Muela, M. P.
López-Moreno, Juan I.
Alvera, Bernardo
Martí Bono, Carlos Enrique
Alatorre, L. C.
Keywords:Geomorphic scales, Land cover changes, Hillslope–channel interactions, Experimental catchments, Experimental plots, Central Spanish Pyrenees
Issue Date:Aug-2010
Publisher:Elsevier
Citation:García-Ruiz JM, Lana-Renault N, Beguería S, Lasanta T, Regués-Muñoz D, Nadal-Romero E, Serrano MP, López-Moreno JI, Alvera B, Martí CE, Alatorre LC. From plot to regional scales: Interactions of slope and catchment hydrological and geomorphic processes in the Spanish Pyrenees. Geomorphology 120 (3-4): 248-257 (2010)
Abstract:The hydrological and geomorphic effects of land use/land cover changes, particularly those associated with vegetation regrowth after farmland abandonment were investigated in the Central Spanish Pyrenees. The main focus was to assess the interactions among slope, catchment, basin, and fluvial channel processes over a range of spatial scales. In recent centuries most Mediterranean mountain areas have been subjected to significant human pressure through deforestation, cultivation of steep slopes, fires, and overgrazing. Depopulation commencing at the beginning of the 20th century, and particularly since the 1960s, has resulted in farmland abandonment and a reduction in livestock numbers, and this has led to an expansion of shrubs and forests. Studies in the Central Spanish Pyrenees, based on experimental plots and catchments, in large basins and fluvial channels, have confirmed that these land use changes have had hydrological and geomorphic consequences regardless of the spatial scale considered, and that processes occurring at any particular scale can be explained by such processes acting on other scales. Studies using experimental plots have demonstrated that during the period of greatest human pressure (mainly the 18th and 19th centuries), cultivation of steep slopes caused high runoff rates and extreme soil loss. Large parts of the small catchments behaved as runoff and sediment source areas, whereas the fluvial channels of large basins showed signs of high torrentiality (braided morphology, bare sedimentary bars, instability, and prevalence of bedload transport). Depopulation has concentrated most human pressure on the valley bottoms and specific locations such as resorts, whereas the remainder of the area has been affected by an almost generalized abandonment. Subsequent plant recolonization has resulted in a reduction of overland flow and declining soil erosion. At a catchment scale this has caused a reduction in sediment sources, and channel incision in the secondary streams. At the regional scale, the most important consequences include a reduction in the frequency of floods, reduced sediment yields, increasing stabilization of fluvial channels (colonization of sedimentary bars by riparian vegetation and a reduction in the braiding index), and stabilization of alluvial fans. These results demonstrate the complexity and multiscalar nature of the interactions among land use and runoff generation, soil erosion, sediment transport, and fluvial channel dynamics, and highlight the need to adopt a multiscale approach in other mountain areas of the world.
Description:32 Pag., 7 Fig.
Publisher version (URL):http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.geomorph.2010.03.038
URI:http://hdl.handle.net/10261/32925
ISSN:0169-555X
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