• There is considerable public and political pressure to reduce woody plant cover on rangelands as a means of increasing water yield, despite the lack of studies documenting that such a strategy is effective. In the Texas Hill Country, runoff from the Edwards Plateau recharges the highly productive and regionally vital Edwards Aquifer. The dominant woody plant on the Plateau is Ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei Buchholz). To understand how woody plant cover may affect the amount and timing of runoff in this region, we monitored streamflow from nine small (3- to 6-ha) watersheds over a 13-year period. After the first two years (initial observations), 100% of the shrub cover was removed from three of the watersheds and ∼70% from another three. Following these treatments we continued to monitor runoff for four years, suspended monitoring for four and a half years, and then resumed monitoring for an additional three years. Runoff from these nine first-order watersheds generally accounted for <5% of the total precipitation and occurred entirely as stormflow (there was no baseflow before or after treatment). Some runoff was generated as subsurface flow, as indicated by hydrographs showing prolonged runoff (typically lasting hours longer than the rainfall). We evaluated the influence of woody plant cover on streamflow by comparing streamflow during the four-year treatment period with that during the posttreatment period (when considerable recovery of woody plants had taken place). Our findings indicate that changes in woody plant cover had little influence on the amount, timing, or magnitude of streamflow from these watersheds. On the basis of this work and other observations in the region, we hypothesize that, for small watersheds, changes in shrub cover will have little or no effect on streamflow except where springs are present.

author list (cited authors)

  • Wilcox, B. P., Owens, M. K., Knight, R. W., & Lyons, R. K.

publication date

  • January 1, 2005 11:11 AM