The impact of land use and land cover changes on soil moisture and hydraulic conductivity along the karst hillslopes of southwest China

Xi Chen, Zhicai Zhang, Xunhong Chen, Pen Shi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


The understanding of the temporal and spatial dynamics of soil moisture and hydraulic property is crucial to the study of several hydrological and ecological processes. Karst environments are extremely fragile because of thin soil and small soil water holding capacity. A marked intensification of agricultural land use and deforestation due to increase of population and thus expansion of agricultural areas has made the karst environment even more delicate. In this study, the soil moisture contents (SMC) and hydraulic conductivities (K) along four karst hillslopes were measured in situ by time domain reflectometry and the Guelph Permeameter, respectively, at test plots, each of which has a different vegetative cover, landform, land surface slope, soil property and content of rock fragment. The statistical results from the measurements show that land cover changes strongly affect the distribution of soil moisture and hydraulic properties. Compared with SMC in the bare soil areas, SMC values are 30.5, 20.1 and 10.2% greater in the forest, shrub and grass areas, respectively. Vegetation roots significantly increase permeability of low-layer silt soils. Measured K values were 0.8, 0.6 and 0.01 cm/min for the forest, agriculture and bare soil areas, respectively. When the forest was destroyed by fire or cut to become an agricultural area or bare soils, SMC would be reduced by 13.1 and 32.1%, respectively. If deforestation leads to strong rock desertification, SMC was reduced by 70%. Bedrock fractures significantly reduce the SMC in the overlying layer, but increase K values. SMC values of 30-45% would be reduced to 17-30% for the soil layer embedding rocks with and without fractures, respectively. K values could be increased from 1.0 to 8.5 cm/min. SMC are sensitive to terrain. A slope angle increase of 1° would reduce SMC about 0.82%. These changes resulting from land cover and land use alterations offer useful information to further investigate the response of ecosystem evolution to hydro-dynamic processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)811-820
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Earth Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Hydraulic conductivity
  • Karst
  • Land use and land cover
  • Soil moisture
  • Southwest China

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Pollution
  • Geology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


Dive into the research topics of 'The impact of land use and land cover changes on soil moisture and hydraulic conductivity along the karst hillslopes of southwest China'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this