Articles | Volume 16, issue 5
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 16, 1305–1320, 2012
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 16, 1305–1320, 2012

Research article 08 May 2012

Research article | 08 May 2012

Hydrological heterogeneity in Mediterranean reclaimed slopes: runoff and sediment yield at the patch and slope scales along a gradient of overland flow

L. Merino-Martín1, M. Moreno-de las Heras1,2, S. Pérez-Domingo1, T. Espigares1, and J. M. Nicolau3 L. Merino-Martín et al.
  • 1Departamento de Ecología, Universidad de Alcalá, Alcalá de Henares, 28871 Madrid, España
  • 2Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW 2308, Australia
  • 3Departamento de Agricultura y Economía agraria, Escuela Politécnica Superior, Universidad de Zaragoza, Huesca, España

Abstract. Hydrological heterogeneity is recognized as a fundamental ecosystem attribute in drylands controlling the flux of water and energy through landscapes. Therefore, mosaics of runoff and sediment source patches and sinks are frequently identified in these dry environments. There is a remarkable scarcity of studies about hydrological spatial heterogeneity in restored slopes, where ecological succession and overland flow are interacting. We conducted field research to study the hydrological role of patches and slopes along an "overland flow gradient" (gradient of overland flow routing through the slopes caused by different amounts of run-on coming from upslope) in three reclaimed mining slopes of Mediterranean-continental climate. We found that runoff generation and routing in non-rilled slopes showed a pattern of source and sink areas of runoff. Such hydrological microenvironments were associated with seven vegetation patches (characterized by plant community types and cover). Two types of sink patches were identified: shrub Genista scorpius patches could be considered as "deep sinks", while patches where the graminoids Brachypodium retusum and Lolium perenne dominate were classified as "surface sinks" or "runoff splays". A variety of source patches were also identified spanning from "extreme sources" (Medicago sativa patches; equivalent to bare soil) to "poor sources" (areas scattered by dwarf-shrubs of Thymus vulgaris or herbaceous tussocks of Dactylis glomerata). Finally, we identified the volume of overland flow routing along the slope as a major controlling factor of "hydrological diversity" (heterogeneity of hydrological behaviours quantified as Shannon diversity index): when overland flow increases at the slope scale hydrological diversity diminishes.