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Research article2020Peer reviewedOpen access

Trees in African drylands can promote deep soil and groundwater recharge in a future climate with more intense rainfall

Bargues-Tobella, Aida; Hasselquist, Niles J.; Bazie, Hugues R.; Bayala, Jules; Laudon, Hjalmar; Ilstedt, Ulrik


Tropical regions are likely to experience more intense rainfall events in the future. Such an increase in rainfall intensities will affect soil and groundwater recharge, with potential consequences for millions of people. However, little is known about the impact of tree cover on soil and groundwater recharge under higher rainfall intensities. Here, we investigated the effect of tree cover and rainfall intensity on soil water drainage in an agroforestry parkland in West Africa. We collected soil water drainage from lysimeters located at 50 and 150 cm depth in both small and large open areas among trees, which represent contrasting degrees of tree cover, and analyzed a subset of water samples for delta O-18 and delta H-2 to gain insights into the mechanisms of water flow within the soil profile. We found that under high rainfall intensities (>20 mm d(-1)), the median daily soil water drainage amount at 150 cm was 13 times higher in the small compared with the large open areas, whereas at 50 cm, there were no significant differences. Low rainfall intensities (<10 mm d(-1)) resulted in little soil water drainage both at 50 and 150 cm depth, regardless of canopy opening size. The isotopic signature of soil water drainage suggested less evaporation and a higher degree of preferential flow in small compared with large open areas. Our results suggest that maintaining or promoting an appropriate tree cover in tropical African drylands may be key to improving deep soil and groundwater recharge under a future climate with more heavy rainfall.


drylands; groundwater recharge; intense rainfall; macropores; tree cover; water stable isotopes

Published in

Land Degradation and Development
2020, Volume: 31, number: 1, pages: 81-95