The relative importance of land use and climatic change in Alpine catchments

Annett Wolf, Patrick Lazzarotto, Harald Bugmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Carbon storage and catchment hydrology are influenced both by land use changes and climatic changes, but there are few studies addressing both responses under both driving forces. We investigated the relative importance of climate change vs. land use change for four Alpine catchments using the LPJ-GUESS model. Two scenarios of grassland management were calibrated based on the more detailed model PROGRASS. The simulations until 2100 show that only reforestation could lead to an increase of carbon storage under climatic change, whereby a cessation of carbon accumulation occurred in all catchments after 2050. The initial increase in carbon storage was attributable mainly to forest re-growth on abandoned land, whereas the stagnation and decline in the second half of the century was mainly driven by climate change. If land was used more intensively, i. e. as grassland, litter input to the soil decreased due to harvesting, resulting in a decline of soil carbon storage (1. 2-2. 9 kg C m-2) that was larger than the climate-induced change (0. 8-1. 4 kg C m-2). Land use change influenced transpiration both directly and in interaction with climate change. The response of forested catchments diverged with climatic change (11-40 mm increase in AET), reflecting the differences in forest age, topography and water holding capacity within and between catchments. For grass-dominated catchments, however, transpiration responded in a similar manner to climate change (light management: 23-32 mm AET decrease, heavy management: 29-44 mm AET decrease), likely because grassroots are concentrated in the uppermost soil layers. Both the water and the carbon cycle were more strongly influenced by land use compared to climatic changes, as land use had not only a direct effect on carbon storage and transpiration, but also an indirect effect by modifying the climate change response of transpiration and carbon flux in the catchments. For the carbon cycle, climate change led to a cessation of the catchment response (sink/source strength is limited), whereas for the water cycle, the effect of land use change remains evident throughout the simulation period (changes in evapotranspiration do not attenuate). Thus we conclude that management will have a large potential to influence the carbon and water cycle, which needs to be considered in management planning as well as in climate and hydrological modelling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-300
Number of pages22
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes


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