Assessing the effects of land cover and future climate conditions on the provision of hydrological services in a medium-sized watershed of Portugal

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The separated and combined effects of land-cover scenarios and future climate on the provision of hydrological services were evaluated in Vez watershed, northern Portugal. Soil and Water Assessment Tool was calibrated against daily discharge, sediments and nitrates, with good agreements between model predictions and field observations. Four hypothetical land-cover scenarios were applied under current climate conditions (eucalyptus/pine, oak, agriculture/vine and low vegetation). A statistical downscaling of four General Circulation Models, bias-corrected with ground observations, was carried out for 2021–2040 and 2041–2060, using representative concentration pathway 4.5 scenario. Also, the combined effects of future climate conditions were evaluated under eucalyptus/pine and agriculture/vine scenario.Results for land cover revealed that eucalyptus/pine scenario reduced by 7% the annual water quantity and up to 17% in the summer period. Although climate change has only a modest effect on the reduction of the total annual discharge (−7%), the effect on the water levels during summer was more pronounced, between −15% and −38%. This study shows that climate change can affect the provision of hydrological services by reducing dry season flows and by increasing flood risks during the wet months. Regarding the combined effects, future climate may reduce the low flows, which can be aggravated with eucalyptus/pine scenario. In turn, peak flows and soil erosion can be offset. Future climate may increase soil erosion and nitrate concentration, which can be aggravated with agriculture scenario. Results moreover emphasize the need to consider both climate and land-cover impacts in adaptation and land management options at the watershed scale. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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