Preferential flow is an important water infiltration phenomenon in karst regions. The response of preferential flow to vegetation restoration requires urgent investigation due to the special soil structure of karst regions. In order to study the effect of vegetation restoration on water movement in karst regions, four kinds of ponded water infiltration experiments were carried out in Pinus Yunnanensis
plantation forestland, secondary forestland, and natural grassland. A brilliant blue dyeing experiment was conducted to visualize the distribution of water infiltration in soil (a total of 150 stained images from vertical soil slices). Results showed that the average depth of matrix flow in natural grassland was approximately six times those in plantation and secondary forestlands. An increase in matrix flow will have a negative effect on the development of preferential flow. Water transported in preferential flow paths affects the distribution of nutrients and organic matter in the soil. However, preferential flow in grassland can promote the accumulation of available nutrients, and preferential flow in plantations can inhibit the loss of organic matter. Preferential flow in grasslands and forest plantations is less than that in native forests soils. Preferential flow increases the percolation of water in soils. The effect is that preferential flow can obstructs water uptake by the roots under low rainfall conditions, and decreases surface runoff before soil saturation under high rainfall conditions. In the process of nutrient element migration, preferential flow has a good contribution, which is conducive to the migration and accumulation of elements required for surface vegetation growth. The contribution of preferential flow needs to be considered in studies on vegetation restoration planning and land degradation.
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