Changes in rainfall interception along a secondary forest succession gradient in lowland Panama
Secondary forests are rapidly expanding in tropical regions. Yet, despite the importance of understanding the hydrological consequences of land-cover dynamics, the relationship between forest succession and canopy interception is poorly understood. This lack of knowledge is unfortunate because rainfall interception plays an important role in regional water cycles and needs to be quantified for many modeling purposes. To help close this knowledge gap, we designed a throughfall monitoring study along a secondary succession gradient in a tropical forest region of Panama. The investigated gradient comprised 20 forest patches 3 to 130 yr old. We sampled each patch with a minimum of 20 funnel-type throughfall collectors over a continuous 2-month period that had nearly 900 mm of rain. During the same period, we acquired forest inventory data and derived several forest structural attributes. We then applied simple and multiple regression models (Bayesian model averaging, BMA) and identified those vegetation parameters that had the strongest influence on the variation of canopy interception. Our analyses yielded three main findings. First, canopy interception changed rapidly during forest succession. After only a decade, throughfall volumes approached levels that are typical for mature forests. Second, a parsimonious (simple linear regression) model based on the ratio of the basal area of small stems to the total basal area outperformed more complex multivariate models (BMA approach). Third, based on complementary forest inventory data, we show that the influence of young secondary forests on interception in real-world fragmented landscapes might be detectable only in regions with a substantial fraction of young forests. Our results suggest that where entire catchments undergo forest regrowth, initial stages of succession may be associated with a substantial decrease of streamflow generation. Our results further highlight the need to study hydrological processes in all forest succession stages, including early ones.