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Water relations and water yield in aspen and conifer forests
Ron Ryel and Eric LaMalfa, Department of Wildland Resources, Utah State University, Logan,
Aspen decline in the Intermountain West is associated with changes in resources values. Reduction in water yield with the conversion of aspen to conifer has been one hypothesized change that has important implications for water resources in these semi-arid lands. Hypothesized mechanisms include differential accumulation of snow, melting patterns, and plant water use rates. We evaluated these mechanisms to assess the potential for differences in water yield with conversion of aspen stands to conifer. Our results indicate significant differences in water accumulation in the peak snow pack as the most likely mechanism to result in changes in water yield. These differences could have profound effects on both watershed water yield and on ecosystem function. Potential ecological consequences of restoring aspen to increase watershed water yield are discussed.