Increased evaporation following widespread tree mortality limits streamflow response

J. A. Biederman, A. A. Harpold, D. J. Gochis, B. E. Ewers, D. E. Reed, S. A. Papuga, P. D. Brooks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


A North American epidemic of mountain pine beetle (MPB) has disturbed over 5 million ha of forest containing headwater catchments crucial to water resources. However, there are limited observations of MPB effects on partitioning of precipitation between vapor loss and streamflow, and to our knowledge these fluxes have not been observed simultaneously following disturbance. We combined eddy covariance vapor loss (V), catchment streamflow (Q), and stable isotope indicators of evaporation (E) to quantify hydrologic partitioning over 3 years in MPB-impacted and control sites. Annual control V was conservative, varying only from 573 to 623 mm, while MPB site V varied more widely from 570 to 700 mm. During wet periods, MPB site V was greater than control V in spite of similar above-canopy potential evapotranspiration (PET). During a wet year, annual MPB V was greater and annual Q was lower as compared to an average year, while in a dry year, essentially all water was partitioned to V. Ratios of 2H and 18O in stream and soil water showed no kinetic evaporation at the control site, while MPB isotope ratios fell below the local meteoric water line, indicating greater E and snowpack sublimation (Ss) counteracted reductions in transpiration (T) and sublimation of canopy-intercepted snow (Sc). Increased E was possibly driven by reduced canopy shading of shortwave radiation, which averaged 21 W m -2 during summer under control forest as compared to 66 W m -2 under MPB forest. These results show that abiotic vapor losses may limit widely expected streamflow increases. Key Points Water vapor loss remained high following forest mortality Abiotic evaporation counteracted reduced transpiration Streamflow did not increase, in contrast to expectations

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5395-5409
Number of pages15
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2014


  • bark beetle
  • disturbance
  • eddy covariance
  • forest disturbance
  • partitioning
  • runoff
  • yield

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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