Topographic position affects the water regime in a semideciduous tropical forest in Panama

M. I. Daws, Christopher Mullins, David Francis Robert Philip Burslem, S. R. Paton, J. Dalling

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144 Citations (Scopus)


The effects of topographic position on water regime in a semideciduous tropical forest on Barro Colorado Island in Panama were assessed by measuring soil matric potential using the filter paper technique and by using measured soil water release characteristics to convert a long-term (20 years) gravimetric water content data-set to matric potential. These were also compared against predictions from a simple water balance model. Soil matric potentials on slope sites were significantly higher than on plateau sites throughout the measurement interval and slopes experienced a shorter duration of drought during the annual dry-season. Measured values of matric potential agreed with those predicted from converting the gravimetric measurements using water release characteristics. Annual duration of drought predicted by the simple water balance model agreed with values determined from the converted long term water content data-set and was able to predict the annual duration of drought on plateau sites. On slope sites, the water balance systematically and significantly overestimated the duration of drought obtained from the water content data-set, suggesting that slope sites were supplied with water from upslope. Predictions of annual drought duration from sites with higher annual rainfall than Barro Colorado Island (BCI), suggest that while plateau sites on BCI experience a water regime consistent with annual rainfall, slopes experience a water regime more similar to that of forests with much higher rainfall. We conclude that such large variations in water regime over small spatial scales may play a role in maintaining high species richness through providing opportunities for niche specialisation and by buffering slopes against possible climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-90
Number of pages11
JournalPlant and Soil
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • matric potential
  • niche specialisation
  • water balance
  • water regime


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