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Geotech Geol Eng (2012) 30:277288

DOI 10.1007/s10706-011-9446-5


Contribution of the Root to Slope Stability

Abdolhossein Khalilnejad Faisal Hj.Ali
Normaniza Osman

Received: 3 February 2011 / Accepted: 8 September 2011 / Published online: 28 September 2011
Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Abstract Land sliding is a geotechnical event that

includes a wide range of ground movements such as
rockfalls, deep failure of slopes and shallow debris
flows, and it can cause various problems in varied civil
fields such as roads and dams. Since most conventional methods are neither inexpensive nor applicable
everywhere, attention has nowadays been drawn to
soil bioengineering using vegetation as the environment-friendly method for slope stabilization. Soil
bioengineering or using vegetation in civil engineering design is mostly applicable to shallow slope
stabilization projects characterized by unstable slopes
with surface movement. Vegetation has both a silent
effect on soil improvement to predict the landslide and
a mechanical role to increase shear and pulling-out
stress on the soil. During the last decade, many
researches have been carried out to clarify the effect of
vegetation on slope stability, but many questions still
remain to be answered.
A. Khalilnejad (&)  Faisal Hj.Ali
Department of Civil Engineering, University of Malaya,
Lembah Pantai 50603, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
e-mail: farzad@siswa.um.edu.my;
Faisal Hj.Ali
Department of Civil Engineering, National Defense
University of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
N. Osman
Institute of Biological Sciences, University of Malaya,
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Keywords Slope stability  Land sliding 

Vegetation  Matric suction  Subtropical region
List of symbols
Soil cohesion
/ Soil friction angle
W Soil dilation angle
Poisson coefficient
Volumetric weight

1 Introduction
Soil bioengineering, use of vegetation in civil engineering design, is now an established practice in many
parts of the world and is considered as a practical
alternative to more traditional methods of soil stabilization such as soil nailing or geosynthetic reinforcement. These methods are mostly utilized in shallow
slope stabilization projects characterized by unstable
slopes with surface movement. To analyse the contribution of vegetation to the slope stability, one needs to
consider its hydrological, biological and mechanical
roles. However, throughout this study, focus will be
more specifically on the mechanical role.
Soil and roots show some similarities with respect
to structure and ductile reaction to strain. Both these
elements deform to a great extent before they break.
Their retaining capacity is not lost during deflection
and subsidence of the relevant slope.



Vegetation also has a key role both in soil moisture

extraction by evapotranspiration process and in rain
drop interception by foliage. Foliage and plant residues
absorb the rainfall energy and prevent soil detachment
by raindrop splash. Also, root systems physically bind
or restrain soil particles while the above-ground
portions filter the sediment out of the run-off; as a
result, the stems and foliage increase the surface
roughness and slow the velocity of the run-off. Plants
and their residues help to maintain soil porosity and
permeability, thereby delaying the onset to run-off.
Soil reinforcement by roots is studied by considering the contribution of the tensile force in a root
segment that intersects a potential slip surface in a
rootsoil system, where the roots mechanically reinforce the soil by transferring shear stresses in the soil
to tensile resistance in the roots. Different types of root
systems of plants can provide different strengthening
effects on the stability of the slope via fibre reinforcement near the slope surface and deeper-binding soil
structure effect through tap or lateral root networks.
The anchorage of the roots and the improvement in
slope stability depend on the properties of the root
systems such as root distribution and tensile strength
(Nicoll and Ray 1996; Stokes and Guitard 1997;
Stokes et al. 1998; Normaniza and Barakbah 2006; Li
et al. 2007) as well as soil conditions.
Even root architecture has long been considered as
a major component of root anchorage, but some
researchers (Wu and Sidle 1995, Waldron and Dakessian 1981, Greenwood et al. 2004) suggest that the
reinforcing effect of vegetation can be considered in
conventional slope design by adding an additional root
cohesion term, cR, to the MohrCoulomb strength
envelope for soil. When the soil is permeated by fibres
(as in the case of roots), the displacement of soil, as a
consequence of shear tension, generates friction
between soil grains and fibre surfaces, causing the
fibres to deform and to mobilize their tensile strengths.
In this way, some of the shear tension can be
transferred from soil to fibres, producing a reinforcement of the soil matrix itself.
On the other hand, vegetation can protect soil from
erosion via foliage; also, they can draw water from soil
via respiration and transpiration and consequently
cause an increase in the soil suction by reducing the
soil moisture, which will help increase the shear
strength in soil, as discussed by Faisal et al. (1999).


Geotech Geol Eng (2012) 30:277288

2 Slope Stability
Sloping ground can be unstable if the gravity forces
acting on a mass of soil exceed the shear strength
available at the base of the mass and within it (Barnes
2000). Skempton and Hutchinson (1969) classified
land sliding as shown in Fig. 1.
Generally, land sliding occurs when shear stress (s)
in the slope overcomes the related shear strength (sf),
and the safety factor F is

F sf s:
As mentioned earlier in the introduction, different
mechanical parameters can affect the shear strength of
the soil and consequently the slope safety factor, for
example pore water pressure, due to the fact that when
pore water pressure increases, safety factor decreases.
To analyse slope stability, there are different
methods depending on the method of movement.
2.1 Plane Translational Slide
As shown in Fig. 1, translational slides are commonly
controlled structurally by surface weakness such as
faults, joints, bedding planes, and contacts between
bedrock and upper soil layer. This method can be
applicable when the slip surface (bedding planes, etc.)
is parallel to the ground surface as shown in Fig. 2.
Barnes (2000) showed that if slip surface is under
the water table, safety factor will be:

F c0 tg/0 cos2 b cz  cw z ch hw cz sin b cos b
where b = slip surface angle, z = slip surface depth,
c = balk and saturated soil unit weight, hw = water
table depth, cw = water unit weight c0 = effective
cohesion impact and /0 = effective angle of internal
As mentioned earlier, increase in c0 and /0 can
cause an increase in the safety factor F.
2.2 Circular Arc Analysis
This method assumes that the slip surface is an arc that
cuts the ground surface in a certain point, as shown in
Fig. 3. Safety factor in this case will be given by:

Geotech Geol Eng (2012) 30:277288


Fig. 1 Type of mass movement (Skempton and Hutchinson 1969)

F shear resistance moment=overturning moment:

Over the turning moment, there is a moment caused by
the weight of the soil over the slip surface and shear
resistance moment caused by shear strength in the slip
Barnes (2000) shows that in such a case, safety
factor will be:

F cu R2 h Wd:
2.3 Effective stress analysis

Fig. 2 Plane translational slide (Barnes 2000)

Bishop and Morgenstern (1960) found out that there

existed a relationship between the safety factor and
pore pressure ratio ru:



Geotech Geol Eng (2012) 30:277288

Fig. 3 Circular arc analysis

(Barnes 2000)

F m  nru

where m and n are termed as stability coefficients.

This method was used to be applied until Barnes
found out that there was a relationship between safety
factor and /0 (Barnes 2000):
F a btg/0

where a and b are stability coefficients of the slope.

Coefficient a refers to (hw/H), and b to both
(hw/H) and (c0 /cH), where H is the slope height.

3 The Influence of Vegetation on the Slope

Segment Stability
Greenway (1987) presented the hydromechanical
influence on slope stability as shown in Fig. 4.
Then, Coppin and Richard (1990) formulated the
main effects of vegetation on slope segment stability
(Fig. 5).
They gave the following formula for the calculation
of safety factor:

F c0 c0R cZ  cw hw W cos2 b T sin h

 tg/0 T cos h cZ W sin b D cos b
where c = unit weight of soil (kN/m3), Z = vertical
height of soil above the slip plane (m), b = slope
angle (), cw = unit weight of water (9.81 kN/m3),
hw = vertical height of groundwater table above the
slip plane (m), cR0 = enhanced effective soil cohesion
due to root matrix reinforcement by vegetation along
slip surface (kN/m2), c0 = enhanced effective soil
cohesion due to soil suction due to evaporation by
vegetation along slip surface (kN/m2), W = surcharge
due to weight of vegetation (kN/m), D = wind


loading force parallel to slope (kN/m), T = tensile

root force acting at base of slice (kN/m).

4 Mechanism of Root Anchorage in the Soil Slope

Vegetation affects both the superficial and mass
stability of slopes significantly (Gray 1995). Soil and
roots show some similarities with respect to structure
and ductile reaction to strain. Both of these elements
deform to a great extent before they break. Their
retaining capacity is not lost during deflection and
subsidence of the relevant slope.
The shear strength function is defined in the stress
diagram by Mohr as the envelope of the circles of
rupture at different stressstrain states. This method
shows obviously that the common simplification of the
function by a straight line is only valid in case of small
extents of surcharge. The depth of the soil covered by
roots is usually not deeper than 1, 5 or 2 metres. On the
soil surface, there is no surcharge and the stresses are
not considerable as compared to deeper layers. The
respective values are close to the values in the stress
diagram mentioned above. The envelope is not a linear
function of the shear parameters / and c, which are
parameters used to simplify calculation, but do not
effectively describe the quality of the material.
Tobias (1995) described data analysis with the
superposition of passive stress state, where it was
shown that shear strength in the root layer was 955%
higher than the underneath depending on the type of
the plant. Using a basic model for soilroot interaction, Gray and Leiser (1980) discussed that shear
strength increases in the reinforced soil by roots. The
angle of the roots being 90 to the shear surface, the
shear strength is contributed by root reinforcement,
and Sr (limit equilibrium) requires that (Fig. 6a):

Geotech Geol Eng (2012) 30:277288


Fig. 4 Hydromechanical
influence on the slope
stability (Greenway 1987)

Sr T cos a sin atg/=A

Sr Ty Tz  tg/ A


where T = tensile force in root reinforcement, a =

inclination of T, A = area of the section under
consideration and / = angle of internal friction of soil.

When written in terms of stress (rr), Eq. 7 becomes:

Sr rrArcos a sin atg/=A


where Ar = area of reinforcement.

Gray and Ohashi (1983) show that for 48 \ a \ 72,
Eq. 7b is applicable and cosa ? sinatg/ & 1.2.



Geotech Geol Eng (2012) 30:277288

Fig. 5 Major influence of

vegetation on slope segment
stability (Coppin and
Richards 1990)

stiffness, the thickness of the shear zone increases and

reinforcement no longer deforms with the soil. To
consider the deformation and bending resistance on
the reinforcement, Oden and Ripperger (1981) used
the following equation for the tie (Fig. 6c):
EI d4 u dz4  Tz d2 u dz2 q
where E and I = Youngs modulus and moment of
inertia of the root reinforcement, q = soil reaction and
u = displacement. This equation can be simplified to
flexible cable if gL = 2.5, where g = (Tz/EI) and
L = length of the tie (deformed portion of root
reinforcement) in this case:

Fig. 6 Simple models; a limit equilibrium; b flexible reinforcement; c cable model (Tobias 1995)

The simplest way is to assume that the root and soil

will be deformed together or it will have no effect on
the shear deformation, where a is determined by the
shear stress in the soil (Fig. 6b). In this case, Eqs. 7, 7a
and 7b would still be valid, provided that the correct
value of T and rr is used.
Abe and Ziemers (1991) experiment with the
reinforced wall showed that by increasing the bending


Tz 0 T L


Ty 0 qyL

u0 qyL2 2Tz 0:


The amount of T is limited by ultimate tension. For the

roots perpendicular to the slope, small amounts of u,
a ? 90 or Tz ? 0 can be used, which represents
initial failure when the root yields. If the root is ductile
and does not fracture, u and T increase continuously
until the cable solution is applicable.
In addition, deep woody root is more effective in
preventing shallow mass stability failures. Roots
mechanically reinforce soil transferring shear stress in

Geotech Geol Eng (2012) 30:277288


the soil tensile resistance in the roots. Meanwhile,

anchored and embedded stems can act as buttress piles
or arch abutment to counteract down slope shear force.
What is more, the weight of vegetation can (in certain
instances) increase the stability via increased confining (normal) stress on the failure surface (Gray and
Sotir 1996). On the other hand, the roots provide better
connection between particles in the soil body (tensile
force on the surface), which results in some cementation forces of the mass of the soil.
However, a dense herbaceous cover is one of the
best protections against superficial rainfall and wind
erosion. Soil looses due to rainfall erosion can be
decreased a hundred-fold (Johansson 2000), maintaining a dense herbaceous cover. This protection has a
significant role both in soil moisture extraction by
evapotranspiration process and in rain drop interception by foliage. Foliage and plant residues absorb the
rainfall energy and prevent soil detachment by raindrop splash. Also, the root systems physically bind or
restrain the soil particles while the above-ground
portions filter the sediment out of run-off; therefore,
the stems and foliage increase the surface roughness
and slow velocity of the run-off. Plants and their
residues help to maintain soil porosity and permeability, thereby delaying the onset of run-off.
Gray and Sotir (1996) described computed soil loss
(e.g. tons) per acre for a given storm. The time interval
(A) can be obtained by examining the Universal Soil
Loss Equation (USLE):
A R  K  LS  C  P

where R = climatic factor, K = soil erodibility value,

LS = topographic factor, C = vegetation factor and
P = erosion control practice factor.
USLE equation provides a method of estimating the
soil losses and range of variability of each of the
parameters in order to change, manage or limit the soil
losses. Furthermore, Brenner (1973) showed that
evapotranspiration by vegetation can reduce pore
water pressures within the soil mantle on the natural
slopes, promoting the stability.

5 Effect of Vegetation on Slope Stability Via

the Effect on Soil Characteristics
As Lu described (2006), particle-scale equilibrium
analyses are employed to distinguish three types of

interparticle forces: (1) active forces transmitted

through the soil grain; (2) active forces at or near
interparticle contacts; and (3) passive, or counterbalancing, forces at or near interparticle contacts. The
second type of force includes physicochemical forces,
cementation forces, surface tension forces and the
force arising from negative pore water pressure; all
these forces can be conceptually combined into a
macroscopic stress called suction stress.
Terzaghi (1943) in saturated soil showed that:
r0 r  uw


where r0 = effective stress, r = total stress and

uw = pore water pressure.
On the other hand, Coulomb equation for shear
strength in saturated soil is:
s c0 r0 tg/0


where c0 = effective cohesion impact and /0 = effective angle of internal friction.

With the replacement of r0 from Eq. 10 to 11, we
will have:
s c0 r  uw tg/0 :


On the other hand, Skempton (1960) showed:

r0 r  1  cs =cuw


where cs = compressibility of the grain and c = compressibility of the granular skeleton.

As shown above, uw is present in both of the
equations, which caused capillary force in the
soil moisture. This force in macroscopic engineering behaviour of the soil can be apparent by
the associated increase in shear and tensile
Bishop (1959) added one parameter to the Taraghis
r0 r  ua xua  uw


where (r - ua) is net normal stress, (ua - uw) is

matric suction and x is effective stress parameter
(considered to vary between zero and unity).
Jennings and Burland (1962) stated that mechanical
parameter in unsaturated soil is affected differently by
changes in the net normal stress than by matric
suction. In other words, increase in matric suction
results in increase in shear strength, which we describe
as /b.



Geotech Geol Eng (2012) 30:277288

As Fredlund and Morgensterns (1978) independent stress variable approach incorporates Eq. 12 and
MohrCoulomb circle, shear strength (s) would be:
s c0 r  ua xua  uw tg/0 :


Fredlund and Morgenstern (1978) found out that the

effect of change in the total normal stress can be
separated from the effect of change in pore water
pressure as shown below:
s c0 r  ua tg/0 ua  uw tg/b


where /b indicates the angle for the rate of increase in

shear strength related to soil matric suction.
When matric suction (ua - uw) reaches zero (in
saturated soil), Eq. 16 will become Eq. 12.
They illustrated MohrCoulomb circles in a threedimensional manner in the case of unsaturated soil in
Fig. 7. In this model, they described the shear stress s
as the ordinate and (r - ua) and (ua - uw) as
abscissas. Since pore-air pressure replacing with
pore-water pressure in case of saturation, (r - ua)
axis changes for (r - uw).
As shown in Table 1 and Fig. 7, the value of /b is
mostly less than or equal to /0 .
They show that shear stress has a direct relationship
with the matric suction as illustrated in Fig. 8.
As shown in the diagram, the equation for the line is:
c c0 ua  uw f tg/b


where c = total cohesion intercept and (ua - uw)f =

matric suction on the failure plane at failure.
Fig. 7 Extended Mohr
Coulomb failure envelope
for unsaturated soil
(Fredlund and Morgenstern


When unsaturated soil is saturated parallel to the

saturation process, c is decreasing as shown in Fig. 9.
The cohesion inspects C1, C2 and C3, like total
cohesion, have a direct relationship with the matric
With the substitution of Eq. 12 for Eq. 11, the shear
strength (sff) will be:
sff c r  ua f tg/0 :


Faisal et al. (2006a) announced that the soil water

characteristic curve is another important relationship for unsaturated soil. SWCC is the relationship
between soil water content and matric suction. In
this research, they found out that increase in matric
suction in the unsaturated soil produces the same
increase in the shear strength as does an increase in
net normal stress; the increase in shear strength
with respect to matric suction becomes less than
the increase with respect to the net normal stress.
In fact, in this research, it was shown that the
stress state in an unsaturated soil can be represented by two independent stress tensors as
(Eqs. 19, 20):

ox  ua

oy  ua

oz  ua

ua  uw


ua  uw

ua  uw

Geotech Geol Eng (2012) 30:277288


Table 1 Experimental value of /b (Fredlund and Morgenstern 1978)

Soil type

c0 (kPa)

/0 ()

Compacted shale; w = 18.6%



Boulder clay: w = 11.6%

/b ()

Test procedure



Constant water content triaxial

Bishop and Morgenstern (1960)




Constant water content triaxial

Bishop and Morgenstern (1960)

Dhanauri clay; w = 22.2%,

qd = 1,580 kg/m3




Consolidated drained triaxial

Satija (1978)

Dhanauri clay; w = 22.2%,

qd = 1,478 kg/m3




Constant drained triaxial

Satija (1978)

Dhanauri clay; w = 22.2%,

qd = 1,580 kg/m3




Consolidated water content


Satija (1978)

Dhanauri clay: w = 22.2%,

qd = 1,478 kg/m3




Constant water content triaxial

Satija (1978)

Madrid grey clay; w = 29%,




Consolidated drained direct


Escario (1980)

Undisturbed decomposed granite;

Hong Kong




Consolidated drained
multistage triaxial

Ho and Fredlund (1982a)

Undisturbed decomposed rhyolite;

Hong Kong




Consolidated drained
multistage triaxial

Ho and Fredlund (1982a)

Tappen-Notch hill silt;

w = 21.5%, qd = 1,590 kg/m3




Consolidated drained
multistage triaxial

Krahn el al. (1989)



Consolidated drained
multistage direct shear

Gan et al. (1988)

Compacted glacial till;

w = 12.2%, qd = 1,810 kg/m3


Average value

These researchers found that increasing the matric

suction causes an increase in the shear strength;
however, this increase is not the result of increase in
/0 . On the other hand, they found almost the same
/0 for different matric suctions.

Matyas and Radhakrishna (1968) presented the

volume change in a three-dimensional surface with
respect to the state parameters (ua - uw) and (r - ua).
Anderson (1991) in his model for slope/hydrology
stability used the effect of increasing the water table in

Fig. 8 Line of intercepts

along the failure plan on the
s versus (ua - uw) plane
(Fredlund and Morgenstern



Geotech Geol Eng (2012) 30:277288

Fig. 9 Horizontal
projection of contour lines
of the failure envelope onto
the s versus (r - ua)
(Fredlund and Morgenstern

tropical region due to infiltration, but he ignored the

increase in soil strength through suction effect
(Anderson and Lloyd 1991).
Faisal et al. (2006b) with the same scheme as above
simulated a change in the dynamic/hydrological
condition due to rainfall and discussed the responsibility of pure water pressure change (negative and
positive) in the slope stability analysis. They showed
that in the tropical regions, the soils involved are often
residual soils and have deep water tables. The surface
soils have negative pore water pressures that play a
significant role in the stability of the slope.
Because of heavy rain during the rainy season in
this region, water table can be changed in a short
period of time, leading to slope instability (result of
wet and dry cycle). But mostly in the slope stability
analysis, suction stress was ignored. In this study, it
was shown that for a given rainfall intensity
qs = 1 9 10-6 m/s, the factor of safety of the slope
tended to decrease with the increase in permeability
(ks) of the soil. The factor of safety of the slope also
reduced with increase in the slope height. Also, it was
discussed that in the simple soil section, the factor of
safety has a linear relationship with rate of change in
shear strength with respect to suction stress, which is
shown below:
F f s tan /b


where F = the factor of safety, f and s = stability

coefficients, and tan /b = the rate of change in shear
strength with respect to matric suction.


Faisal et al. (2006c) stated that vegetation in the soil

surface not only decreases the infiltration but also
changes the suction value.
They also found out that soil without surface cover
appears to have higher infiltration rate compared with
the soil covered with grass. It appears that the presence
of grass encourages more water pounding. Besides, the
root system also helps in increasing the rate of water
infiltration. Suction monitoring in this study shows
that the suction values at steady state for model with
grass as its surface cover are generally marginally
lower. This may be due to the effect of roots that
formed abnormal water passage for the water to

6 The Impact of Pulling-Out on the Slope

As shown in Fig. 10, shear stress along the slope is
converted into the pulling-out force at the end of the
slope (plane area). The roots in this area show some
resistance against this kind of force, as shown
This kind of resistance plays a key role in slope
stability as the root is protecting the soil at the end of
the slope against the pulling-out force. Roots show
some kind of resistance against the slope failure by
decreasing shear stress along the slope. The mechanism of this effect fixes the plain part of the end of the
slope by increasing the pulling-out resistance in this

Geotech Geol Eng (2012) 30:277288


Fig. 10 The effect of roots

at the end of the slope

7 Conclusion
The present study addresses the mechanism of roots
anchorage in soil slope. It is a priority because of the
effect of vegetation roots on the hazards of land
sliding, especially in subtropical and tropical areas
with dense herb coverage.
Since 1973, over 500 papers have been published
on the effect of root anchorage on slope stability. The
basic mechanisms to deal with the problem are
hydrological and mechanical mechanisms (Fig. 4).
The major influence of vegetation on slope segment
stability is shown in Fig. 5.
The following are the mechanical mechanisms of
root anchorage in slope stability:
Direct shear stress carried by the root (Fig. 6),
prevention of shallow mass stability failure, prevention of pulling-out at the end of slope and effect of
vegetation on slope stability via the effect on soil
characteristics such as matric suction, effective stress
pore water pressure and cohesion intercept.
Acknowledgments The authors are really grateful to
University Malaya and Professor N. Shokrpour from Shiraz
University of Medical sciences, Iran, for editing the manuscript
for English.

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