Flood risk reduction and flow buffering as ecosystem services – Part 2: Land use and rainfall intensity effects in Southeast Asia
Abstract. Watersheds buffer the temporal pattern of river flow relative to the temporal pattern of rainfall. This
ecosystem service is inherent to geology and climate, but buffering also responds to human use and misuse of the landscape. Buffering can be part of management feedback loops if salient, credible and legitimate indicators are used. The flow persistence parameter Fp in a parsimonious recursive model of river flow (Part 1, van Noordwijk et al., 2017) couples the transmission of extreme rainfall events (1 − Fp), to the annual base-flow fraction of a watershed (Fp). Here we compare Fp estimates from four meso-scale watersheds in Indonesia (Cidanau, Way Besai and Bialo) and Thailand (Mae Chaem), with varying climate, geology and land cover history, at a decadal timescale. The likely response in each of these four to variation in rainfall properties (including the maximum hourly rainfall intensity) and land cover (comparing scenarios with either more or less forest and tree cover than the current situation) was explored through a basic daily water-balance model, GenRiver. This model was calibrated for each site on existing data, before being used for alternative land cover and rainfall parameter settings. In both data and model runs, the wet-season (3-monthly) Fp values were consistently lower than dry-season values for all four sites. Across the four catchments Fp values decreased with increasing annual rainfall, but specific aspects of watersheds, such as the riparian swamp (peat soils) in Cidanau reduced effects of land use change in the upper watershed. Increasing the mean rainfall intensity (at constant monthly totals for rainfall) around the values considered typical for each landscape was predicted to cause a decrease in Fp values by between 0.047 (Bialo) and 0.261 (Mae Chaem). Sensitivity of Fp to changes in land use change plus changes in rainfall intensity depends on other characteristics of the watersheds, and generalisations made on the basis of one or two case studies may not hold, even within the same climatic zone. A wet-season Fp value above 0.7 was achievable in forest–agroforestry mosaic case studies. Inter-annual variability in Fp is large relative to effects of land cover change. Multiple (5–10) years of paired-plot data would generally be needed to reject no-change null hypotheses on the effects of land use change (degradation and restoration). Fp trends over time serve as a holistic scale-dependent performance indicator of degrading/recovering watershed health and can be tested for acceptability and acceptance in a wider social-ecological context.