Eco-hydrology interactions between trees, soil and water in terrestrial and wetland areas: The effect of tree planting on water flow dynamics in Wairarapa Wetlands, New Zealand
During the last two decades there has been increasing interest in the role of forests and wetlands as flood mitigating tools due to growing concerns regarding the sustainability of many traditional engineering flood defences such as dykes, sea walls and dams. In forests, the role is facilitated by the interaction between trees, soil and water. Specifically trees reduce surface runoff and prevent flooding through increased evapotranspiration and canopy interception and enhance physical and hydraulic properties of soil that are critical for the absorption and retention of flood waters by the soil. It is increasingly realised that the answer to flood mitigation is not a blanket recommendation to “plant trees”. This is because the role of trees varies spatially and temporally as a function of climate, topography, rainfall properties, soil type and condition, catchment scale and geology, among others. For example, where trees are present in wetlands, particularly forested wetlands, the mechanisms by which trees interact with soil and water are similar to that in forests but because of a high water table, the impact of trees may be reduced. Therefore, the mere presence of forests and forested wetlands will not necessarily deliver flood risk management. The purpose of this study was to explore the effectiveness of trees as flood mitigating tools under various bio-geo climatic factors in forests and forested wetland environments. Three forms of investigation were followed to fulfil this purpose. A detailed literature review was carried out to assess the role of trees and forests as flood mitigation tools under changing climate, topography, species type, rainfall properties, soil type and condition, catchment scale and geology. A field experiment was carried out to collect data and analyse the effect of trees on soil physical and hydraulic properties that include bulk density, saturated hydraulic conductivity, soil organic carbon, soil moisture content, matric potential and soil moisture retention in a previously forested wetland undergoing restoration in New Zealand. A spatially explicit decision support tool, the Land Use Capability Indicator (LUCI) was then used to determine appropriate areas where intervention can be targeted to optimise the role of trees as flood mitigating tools in previously forested wetlands undergoing restoration. The detailed review identified a major data gap in the role of trees under hydric conditions (high water table), along with uncertainties on their effectiveness in large catchments (>˜40 km²) and in extreme rainfall events. The field experiment provided the first set of soil hydrology data from an ephemeral wetland in New Zealand showing the benefits of newly established trees in improving hydraulic conductivity of soils. The soil hydrology data is a useful baseline for continuous monitoring of the forested wetlands undergoing restoration. The use of the Land Use Capability Indicator was its first application for the optimisation of flood mitigation in a forested wetland. Its suggested target areas are not necessarily conducive for survival of some tree species, although if suitable species are established, flood risk mitigation could be maximised. Further research on what native species are best for what conditions and in what combinations is recommended, to increase survival in the proposed target areas.