Forest landscapes, especially their spatial heterogeneity, play a key role in sustaining the ecosystem water conservation service in a watershed. However, this domain has not been fully investigated. This study uses the Yi River watershed in central China as the study site. We calculated the water conservation amounts of different forests through the water balance method and quantified the landscape spatial heterogeneity of forests using landscape metrics. Then we ran correlation analysis to find the correlating relationship between the landscape spatial heterogeneity of forests and the ecosystem water conservation service. We finally applied a redundancy analysis to explore the respective influencing strength of the landscape compositional heterogeneity and configurational heterogeneity of forests on the water conservation service. Results indicate that: (1) The area proportion of different forests has a significant impact on the spatial distribution of the water conservation service. When mixed forest is dominant and its area proportion is much greater than that of other forests, the generation of the water conservation service can be best enhanced; (2) Changes of the landscape compositional heterogeneity and configurational heterogeneity of forests can affect the water conservation service to different degrees. In particular, the landscape spatial heterogeneity of mixed forest has the greatest impact on this ecosystem service; (3) The landscape configurational heterogeneity of deciduous broad-leaved forest and mixed forest has a greater impact on the water conservation service than the landscape compositional heterogeneity, whereas that of evergreen needle-leaved forest has the opposite effect. In general, appropriately adjusting the combination and configuration of different forests in a watershed can effectively promote the generation of the ecosystem water conservation service. This study provides a scientific basis for future forest management with a view to improving the landscape sustainability of forests.
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