Understanding small-scale hydrologic processes and the impact of soil conservation techniques are crucial in reducing runoff and sediment losses in semi-arid regions. This study was conducted in the Alto Ipanema River Basin, in Pernambuco State (Brazil). Soil and water dynamics were intensely monitored in twelve experimental plots with different coverage conditions (plot with bare soil—Bare; plot with natural vegetation—Natur; plot with mulch—Mulch; plot with Cactus Palma—Palma). By far, bare soil conditions produced higher runoff and soil losses. Mulch cover was close to natural vegetation cover, but still presented higher runoff and sediment losses. Palma, which is a very popular spineless cactus for animal feed in the Brazilian semi-arid region, presented an intermediate hydrologic impact in controlling runoff, enhancing soil moisture, and also reducing soil losses. Experiments were conducted in one hydrologic year (2016/2017) at three different sites. They were intensely monitored and had the same number of plots. This enabled us to carry out a robust performance assessment of the two soil conservation practices adopted (Mulch and Palma), compared to natural vegetation cover and bare soil conditions. Such low-cost alternatives could be easily adopted by local farms in the region, and, hence, improve soil reclamation and regional resiliency in a water-scarce environment.
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