Forest hydrology in Chile: Past, present, and future

Francisco Balocchi, Mauricio Galleguillos, Diego Rivera, Alejandra Stehr, Jose Luis Arumi, Roberto Pizarro, Pablo Garcia-Chevesich, Andrés Iroumé, Juan J. Armesto, Pedro Hervé-Fernández, Carlos Oyarzún, Pilar Barría, Christian Little, Gabriel Mancilla, Santiago Yépez, Rolando Rodriguez, Don A. White, Richard P. Silberstein, Daniel G. Neary, Pablo Ramírez de Arellano

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


This paper reviews the current knowledge of hydrological processes in Chilean temperate forests which extend along western South America from latitude 29° S to 56° S. This geographic region includes a diverse range of natural and planted forests and a broad sweep of vegetation, edaphic, topographic, geologic, and climatic settings which create a unique natural laboratory. Many local communities, endangered freshwater ecosystems, and downstream economic activities in Chile rely on water flows from forested catchments. This review aims to (i) provide a comprehensive overview of Chilean forest hydrology, to (ii) review prior research in forest hydrology in Chile, and to (iii) identify knowledge gaps and provide a vision for future research on forest hydrology in Chile. We reviewed the relation between native forests, commercial plantations, and other land uses on water yield and water quality from the plot to the catchment scale. Much of the global understanding of forests and their relationship with the water cycle is in line with the findings of the studies reviewed here. Streamflow from forested catchments increases after timber harvesting, native forests appear to use less water than plantations, and streams draining native forest yield less sediment than streams draining plantations or grassland/shrublands. We identified 20 key knowledge gaps such as forest groundwater systems, soil–plant-atmosphere interactions, native forest hydrology, and the effect of forest management and restoration on hydrology. Also, we found a paucity of research in the northern geographic areas and forest types (35-36°S); most forest hydrology studies in Chile (56%) have been conducted in the southern area (Los Rios Region around 39-40° S). There is limited knowledge of the geology and soils in many forested areas and how surface and groundwater are affected by changes in land cover. There is an opportunity to advance our understanding using process-based investigations linking field studies and modeling. Through the establishment of a forest hydrology science “society” to coordinate efforts, regional and national-scale land use planning might be supported. Our review ends with a vision to advance a cross-scale collaborative effort to use new nation-wide catchment-scale networks Long-term Ecosystem Research (LTER) sites, to promote common and complementary techniques in these studies, and to conduct transdisciplinary research to advance sound and integrated planning of forest lands in Chile.

Original languageEnglish
Article number128681
JournalJournal of Hydrology
StatePublished - Jan 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Chilean native forests
  • Exotic plantations
  • Land use planning
  • Sediment yield
  • Water yield


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