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PLoS One. 2013 Jul 30;8(7):e70328. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0070328. Print 2013.

Study on hydrological functions of litter layers in North China.

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  • 1Key Laboratory of Soil and Water Conservation and Desertification Combating of Education Ministry, Beijing Forestry University, Beijing, China.


Canopy interception, throughfall, stemflow, and runoff have received considerable attention during the study of water balance and hydrological processes in forested ecosystems. Past research has either neglected or underestimated the role of hydrological functions of litter layers, although some studies have considered the impact of various characteristics of rainfall and litter on litter interception. Based on both simulated rainfall and litter conditions in North China, the effect of litter mass, rainfall intensity and litter type on the maximum water storage capacity of litter (S) and litter interception storage capacity (C) were investigated under five simulated rainfall intensities and four litter masses for two litter types. The results indicated: 1) the S values increased linearly with litter mass, and the S values of broadleaf litter were on average 2.65 times larger than the S values of needle leaf litter; 2) rainfall intensity rather than litter mass determined the maximum interception storage capacity (Cmax ); Cmax increased linearly with increasing rainfall intensity; by contrast, the minimum interception storage capacity (Cmin ) showed a linear relationship with litter mass, but a poor correlation with rainfall intensity; 3) litter type impacted Cmax and Cmin ; the values of Cmax and Cmin for broadleaf litter were larger than those of needle leaf litter, which indicated that broadleaf litter could intercepte and store more water than needle leaf litter; 4) a gap existed between Cmax and Cmin , indicating that litter played a significant role by allowing rainwater to infiltrate or to produce runoff rather than intercepting it and allowing it to evaporate after the rainfall event; 5) Cmin was always less than S at the same litter mass, which should be considered in future interception predictions. Vegetation and precipitation characteristics played important roles in hydrological characteristics.

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