Analysis of the drought recovery of Andosols on southern Ecuadorian Andean páramos
Abstract. The Neotropical Andean grasslands above 3500 m a.s.l., known as páramo, offer remarkable ecological services for the Andean region. The most important of these is the water supply of excellent quality to many cities and villages in the inter-Andean valleys and along the coast. The páramo ecosystem and especially its soils are under constant and increased threat by human activities and climate change. In this study, the recovery speed of the páramo soils after drought periods are analysed. The observation period includes the droughts of 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 together with intermediate wet periods. Two experimental catchments – one with and one without páramo – were investigated. The Probability Distributed Moisture (PDM) model was calibrated and validated in both catchments. Drought periods and its characteristics were identified and quantified by a threshold level approach and complemented by means of a drought propagation analysis. At the plot scale in the páramo region, the soil water content measured by time domain reflectometry (TDR) probes dropped from a normal value of about 0.84 to ∼ 0.60 cm3 cm−3, while the recovery time was 2–3 months. This did not occur at lower altitudes (Cumbe) where the soils are mineral. Although the soil moisture depletion observed in these soils was similar to that of the Andosols (27 %), decreasing from a normal value of about 0.54 to ∼ 0.39 cm3 cm−3, the recovery was much slower and took about 8 months for the drought in 2010. At the catchment scale, however, the soil water storage simulated by the PDM model and the drought analysis was not as pronounced. Soil moisture droughts occurred mainly in the dry season in both catchments. The deficit for all cases is small and progressively reduced during the wet season. Vegetation stress periods correspond mainly to the months of September, October and November, which coincides with the dry season. The maximum number of consecutive dry days were reached during the drought of 2009 and 2010 (19 and 22 days), which can be considered to be a long period in the páramo. The main factor in the hydrological response of these experimental catchments is the precipitation relative to the potential evapotranspiration. As the soils never became extremely dry nor close to the wilting point, the soil water storage capacity had a secondary influence.