Modelling the impacts of land cover change on streamflow dynamics of a tropical rainforest headwater catchment

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36 Citations (Scopus)


modelling experiment is used to examine different land-use scenarios ranging from extreme deforestation (31% forest cover) to pristine (95% forest cover) conditions and related Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes to assess whether a change in streamflow dynamics, discharge extremes and mean annual water balance of a 73.4-km2 tropical headwater catchment in Costa Rica could be detected. A semi-distributed, conceptual rainfall–runoff model was adapted to conceptualize the empirically-based, dominant hydrological processes of the study area and was multi-criteria calibrated using different objective functions and empirical constraints on model simulations in a Monte Carlo framework to account for parameter uncertainty. The results suggest that land-use change had relatively little effect on the overall mean annual water yield (<3%). However, streamflow dynamics proved to be sensitive in terms of frequency, timing and magnitude of discharge extremes. For low flows and peak discharges of return periods greater than one year, land use had a minor influence on the runoff response. Below these thresholds (<1-year return period), forest cover potentially decreased runoff peaks and low flows by as much as 10%, and non-forest cover increased runoff peaks and low flows by up to 15%. The study demonstrated the potential for using hydrological modelling to help identify the impact of protection and reforestation efforts on ecosystem services.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1–19
Number of pages19
JournalHydrological Sciences Journal
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • ecosystem services
  • PES
  • hydrological modelling
  • tropics
  • Costa Rica
  • land-use change


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