Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 21


discussions, stats, and author profiles for this publication at: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/226629236

Root tensile strength and root distribution of typical

Mediterranean plant species and their contribution to
soil shear strength. Plant Soil


Impact Factor: 2.95 DOI: 10.1007/s11104-008-9553-0


97 365


Sarah De Baets J. Poesen

University of Exeter University of Leuven


Bert Reubens Bart Muys

Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research University of Leuven


All in-text references underlined in blue are linked to publications on ResearchGate, Available from: Sarah De Baets
letting you access and read them immediately. Retrieved on: 14 December 2015
Plant Soil (2008) 305:207226
DOI 10.1007/s11104-008-9553-0


Root tensile strength and root distribution of typical

Mediterranean plant species and their contribution
to soil shear strength
S. De Baets & J. Poesen & B. Reubens & K. Wemans &
J. De Baerdemaeker & B. Muys

Received: 2 May 2007 / Accepted: 14 January 2008 / Published online: 21 February 2008
# Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2008

Abstract In Mediterranean environments, gully ero- underground and play an important role in protecting
sion is responsible for large soil losses. It has since the topsoil from being eroded. In order to evaluate the
long been recognized that slopes under vegetation are potential of plant species growing in Mediterranean
much more resistant to soil erosion processes com- environments to prevent shallow mass movements on
pared to bare soils and improve slope stability. gully or terrace walls, the root reinforcement effect of
Planting or preserving vegetation in areas vulnerable 25 typical Mediterranean matorral species (i.e. shrubs,
to erosion is therefore considered to be a very grasses herbs, small trees) was assessed, using
effective soil erosion control measure. Re-vegetation the simple perpendicular model of Wu et al. (Can
strategies for erosion control rely in most cases on the Geotech J 16:1933, 1979). As little information is
effects of the above-ground biomass in reducing water available on Mediterranean plant root characteristics,
erosion rates, whereas the role of the below-ground root distribution data were collected in SE-Spain and
biomass is often neglected or underestimated. While root tensile strength tests were conducted in the
the above-ground biomass can temporally disappear laboratory. The power root tensile strengthroot
in semi-arid environments, roots may still be present diameter relationships depend on plant species. The
results show that the shrubs Salsola genistoides Juss.
Ex Poir. and Atriplex halimus L. have the strongest
Responsible Editor: Peter J. Gregory roots, followed by the grass Brachypodium retusum
S. De Baets : J. Poesen (*) : K. Wemans (Pers.) Beauv. The shrubs Nerium oleander L. and the
Physical and Regional Geography Research Group, grass Avenula bromoides (Gouan) H. Scholz have the
K.U. Leuven, weakest roots in tension. Root area ratio for the 0
Celestijnenlaan 200E,
0.1 m topsoil ranges from 0.08% for the grass
3001 Leuven, Belgium
e-mail: jean.poesen@geo.kuleuven.be Piptatherum miliaceum (L.) Coss to 0.8% for the tree
Tamarix canariensis Willd. The rush Juncus acutus L.
B. Reubens : B. Muys provides the maximum soil reinforcement to the
Division Forest, Nature and Landscape, K.U. Leuven,
topsoil by its roots (i.e. 304 kPa). Grasses also
Celestijnenlaan 200E,
3001 Leuven, Belgium increase soil shear strength significantly (up to
244 kPa in the 00.1 m topsoil for Brachypodium
J. De Baerdemaeker retusum (Pers.) Beauv.). The shrubs Retama sphaer-
Division of Mechatronics, Biostatistics and Sensors,
ocarpa (L.) Boiss. and Anthyllis cytisoides L. are
K.U. Leuven,
Kasteelpark Arenberg 30, increasing soil shear strength to a large extent as well
3001 Leuven, Belgium (up to 134 and 160 kPa respectively in the 00.10 m
208 Plant Soil (2008) 305:207226

topsoil). Whereas grasses and the rush Juncus acutus and Leiser 1982; Gray and Sotir 1996). Nevertheless,
L. increase soil shear strength in the topsoil (0 the mechanical characteristics of Mediterranean plant
0.10 m) to a large extent, the shrubs Anthyllis root systems are not much studied yet. Vegetation can
cytisoides (L.), Retama sphaerocarpa (L.) Boiss., influence the above-mentioned processes in various
Salsola genistoides Juss. Ex Poir. and Atriplex ways. In this study the mechanical soil reinforcement
halimus L. strongly reinforce the soil to a greater effect of roots, preventing shallow mass movements,
depth (00.5 m). As other studies reported that Wus will be investigated, as this is important for stabilizing
model overestimates root cohesion values, reported gully or terrace walls. If these walls are not stabilized,
root cohesion values in this study are maximum then gullies or terraces act as sediment sources and
values. Nevertheless, the calculated cohesion values increase the sediment connectivity in the landscape
are used to rank species according to their potential to (Poesen et al. 2003). Plant roots can increase soil
reinforce the soil. shear strength both directly by mechanical reinforcing
and indirectly through water removal by transpiration.
Keywords Restoration ecology . Root area ratio . Simon et al. (2006) indicate that the hydrological
Root cohesion . Slope stability . Stream bank erosion effects of roots on streambank stability are smaller in
magnitude than the mechanical effects.
One of the important mechanical characteristics of
Introduction roots is that they are strong in tension. Soils, on the
other hand, are strong in compression and weak in
Soil erosion is a serious problem in Mediterranean tension. A combined effect of soil and roots results in
environments, where dry bare soils are very vulner- a reinforced soil. When shearing the soil, roots
able to erosion during intensive rainstorms. This mobilize their tensile strength whereby shear stresses
results in large on-site soil losses and off-site that develop in the soil matrix are transferred to the
consequences such as sediment deposition in river root fibers via interface friction along the root length
channels or reservoirs and flooding (Poesen and (Gray and Barker 2004) or via the tensile resistance of
Hooke 1997). the roots (Ennos 1990).
Past experience shows that slopes under vegetation The magnitude of root reinforcement depends on
are more resistant against mass movements and water morphological characteristics of the root system (e.g.
erosion (Gray and Sotir 1996). However, vegetation root distribution with depth, root distribution over
cover can be very limited in semi-arid environments different root diameter classes), root tensile strengths,
and is often damaged by surface fire, overgrazing, root tensile modulus values, root tortuosity, the
drought or flooding (Aerts et al. 2006). Even interface friction between roots and the soil and the
following vegetation removal, an increase in water orientation of roots to the principal direction of strain
erosion phenomena or shallow mass movements (Greenway 1987). Abernethy and Rutherford (2001)
usually appears after a lag period attributed to the state that the interspecies differences in tensile
time required for roots of the removed vegetation to strength are less significant to bank stability than the
decay (Morgan 2005; Sidle et al. 2006). The effects of interspecies differences in root distribution. From
roots in protecting the soil from being eroded can previous research it is also known that the finer the
therefore not be neglected. roots, the higher their tensile strength (e.g. Operstein
Roots affect properties of the soil, such as and Frydman 2000; Gray and Barker 2004). It can
infiltration rate, aggregate stability, moisture content, therefore be hypothesized that a large number of
shear strength and organic matter content, all of which small roots will contribute more to soil reinforcement
control soil erosion rates to various degrees (Gyssels as compared to a small number of thick roots.
et al. 2005). During the past two decades, several investigations
The potential of typical Mediterranean plant roots have been conducted to improve our understanding of
to increase the resistance of topsoils to concentrated root reinforcement of soils. Ways to assess the
flow erosion is recently unravelled and discussed in increase in soil shear strength are conducting in situ
De Baets et al. (2007). The role of roots in improving shear tests on root-reinforced soils, laboratory testing
slope stability has long been recognized (e.g. Gray of root-soil composites and modelling the root-soil
Plant Soil (2008) 305:207226 209

interactions. Wu et al. (1979) developed a simple northwest of the city of Murcia in Southeast Spain,
perpendicular root model, which has been applied in near the town of Cieza. The climate is semi-arid, with
many studies to estimate the increase in soil shear a high inter-annual variability of rainfall. Mean annual
strength through roots. This model uses root tensile rainfall is about 279 mm and potential evaporation
strength and root distribution to estimate the increase reaches 848 mm (Castillo et al. 2007). Mean annual
in soil shear strength. Nowadays, more sophisticated air temperature for the study area equals 17C (FAO
models based on deformational characteristics of the 2005). The geology of the area consists of Jurassic
root reinforced soils have been developed (Gray and limestone and dolomite mountains with calcareous
Barker 2004; e.g. Dupuy et al. 2005). SLIP4EX piedmonts, basin deposits of Cretaceous and Miocene
(Greenwood 2005) is a straightforward computer marls, and Keuper gypsum deposits. Most soils in the
program that is able to combine mechanical and area are thin (Leptosols), weakly developed (Regosols)
hydrological effects of vegetation on slope stability. and mainly characterised by their parent material
Pollen and Simon (2005) recently developed a (Calcisols and Gypsisols). The current land use is
dynamic fiber bundle model accounting for the dominated by cereals, grapes, olives, almond groves,
progressive manner of root breaking. abandoned fields, reforested land and semi-natural land
For long, information on Mediterranean plant root (Lesschen et al. 2007).
characteristics and their use for soil erosion control
was very limited. Recently, few studies have been Selection of plant species and assessment of root
conducted, investigating the influence of Mediterranean distribution information
plant roots on soil strength. Operstein and Frydman
(2000) conducted root tension tests, in situ pullout tests Roots of 25 typical Mediterranean matorral species
and direct shear tests on four Mediterranean plant were sampled in the Crcavo catchment for conduct-
species (i.e. Medicago sativa, Rosmarinus officinalis, ing tensile strength tests in the laboratory. In a
Pistacia lentiscus and Cistus sp.). Mattia et al. (2005) previous study (De Baets et al. 2007) root distribution
investigated the biotechnical characteristics of three was recorded for this set of plant species by
Mediterranean plant species (i.e. Atriplex halimus, excavating three to five individuals per plant species.
Lygeum spartum and Pistacia lentiscus). However, First a list of common plant species present in the
the number of Mediterranean species studied remains Crcavo basin has been made. To assess the abun-
very restricted. dance of these species 45 transects of 25 m long were
This study aims at quantifying the soil reinforce- randomly selected in the basin. The abundance of a
ment due to plant roots for 25 typical Mediterranean given species was then defined as the number of
plant species, using the simple perpendicular model of sampling transects along which the species occurs
Wu et al. (1979) in order to rank species according to relative to the total number of sampling transects. To
their suitability for slope stabilization. Therefore, root be considered as a main species an occurrence >10%
tensile strength and root distribution data were had to be achieved. Species to be considered for use
collected for 25 typical Mediterranean plant species in erosion control measures were selected from three
in order to improve our knowledge on root properties habitats where gully erosion is most likely to occur.
that are important when evaluating the use of plant Most of the areas vulnerable to gully erosion are
species for controlling shallow mass movements on located around channel heads or along channel walls,
gully or terrace walls. i.e. where steep slope gradients exist (Lesschen et al.
2007). The exact location of potential gullies is
determined by the local topography. Within the
Materials and methods Crcavo catchment three hotspots were selected
where gully erosion features are very prominent, i.e.
Study area (1) existing channels and ephemeral gullies, (2)
abandoned croplands (Lesschen et al. 2007) and (3)
Root sampling of 25 typical Mediterranean plant steep badland slopes under semi-natural vegetation. In
species took place in the Crcavo catchment (134-1 these habitats representative (occurrence >10%)
27 E, 38093814 N), located about 40 km grasses, rushes (monocotyledons), shrubs, herbs, or
210 Plant Soil (2008) 305:207226

small trees (dicots) were selected (e.g. in Fig. 1). No Fig. 1 Examples of species growing in ephemeral river b
channels: a Juncus acutus (having a typical fibrous root
large trees were selected for potential use in restoration system), b Atriplex halimus, c Tamarix canariensis (having a
works, as the weight of large trees might surcharge the typical tap root system), on abandoned fields: d Brachypodium
slope, increasing normal and downhill force compo- retusum, e Thymus zygis, f Rosmarinus officinales and on steep
nents (Gray and Sotir 1996). After excavation of the degraded slopes: g Stipa tenacissima, h Anthyllis cytisoides, i
Salsola genistoides. Photos taken by Sarah De Baets, Crvavo
species, the roots were placed in their original position catchment, Murcia, SE Spain
and cut into 0.10 m depth classes. For each individual
plant, the roots corresponding to each depth class were clamps (Fig. 2a). The most often reported and
then spread on a sheet and digital photographs were experienced problem with clamping is that the grips
made to assess root length density and root diameter damage the root structure, inducing rupture of roots at
distribution of the root systems. The information on the position of clamping. Tests where the roots broke
root distribution was presented in De Baets et al. near or at the position of clamping are to be
(2007). considered invalid. In order to improve the adhesion
between the roots and the clamps without damaging
Root tensile strength the root structure, rubber strips and fine sand paper
were attached to the screws. In addition, to prevent
As highlighted before, root tensile strength testing is a slipping, extra screws (similar to screws clamping
crucial step to evaluate root reinforcement. For each bicycle brakes) (Fig. 2b) were attached at the roots
selected plant species about 50 undamaged roots with ends, keeping the roots in place between the big
a constant diameter, D < 8 mm (as this is the screws. This way, roots having diameters <8 mm
maximum root diameter that could be tested in the could be tested and the succeeding percentage of the
laboratory), and a minimum root length of 0.10 m tests was above 50% for almost all tested plant
were selected. To collect the roots, a few individual, species. Each root sample was then blocked over its
medium-size plants, growing in the same microenvi- entire width by the screw clamps of the testing
ronment (same habitat, similar landscape position), machine. Each tested sample was at least 0.10 m in
were dug out using the dry excavation method (Bhm length and the length between the clamps was set at
1979). After excavation, the roots were stored in a 0.10 0.03 m before stretching. Turning on the
plastic bag to preserve their moisture content. The engine, the sample was then subjected to a movement
tested roots most probably had different root moisture of the tangent screw at a constant test speed of
contents. A few days later, after the field work period, 10 mm/min. The resolution of the sensor (Wagezelle
the roots were put in an alcohol solution (15% ethanol) load cell, type U1, HBM, Volketswil, Germany) was
at a temperature of 4C to conserve them for several 0.01 N. A maximum force of 200 N could be exerted.
months (Bhm 1979). This was found to be the best The following formula was then used to calculate Tr
way for conservation of root tensile strength (Bischetti (Bischetti et al. 2003).
et al. 2003). Bischetti et al. (2003) showed that there is
a good correspondence between root tensile strength Fmax
Tr  D2  1
obtained from fresh samples and root samples stored in p 4
alcohol solution for several months.
Root tensile strength (Tr, MPa) tests were con- where Fmax is the maximum force (N) needed to
ducted in the laboratory for Mechatronics, Biostatis- break the root and D is mean root diameter (mm) near
tics and Sensors (K.U. Leuven, Belgium) with a the point of rupture before stretching. Before testing,
universal tensile and compression test machine (UTS root diameter was measured at three points, i.e. near
Testsysteme GmBh., Ulm, Germany, Fig. 2a). Such the upper clamp, halfway the root clamps and near the
device combines three functions: i.e. traction force bottom clamp, using a digital calliper.
generation, measuring load and displacement and data
acquisition. Clamping is the most critical issue when Root area ratio calculations
measuring root strength. Roots having diameters
>8 mm could not be tested due to clamping problems. Root area ratio (RAR) or root biomass concentration
In our tests, the roots were clamped using screw as a function of soil depth are required in order to
Plant Soil (2008) 305:207226 211
212 Plant Soil (2008) 305:207226
Fig. 2 a UTS apparatus
used to conduct root tensile
strength measurements, b
schematic representation of
the clamps used to attach
the roots and additional
screws attached to the root
ends to prevent them from
slipping out of the screw

estimate root contribution to soil strength. RAR is tion as these root variables were measured in a
defined as the fraction of the soil cross-sectional area previous study for the same set of plant species (De
occupied by roots per unit area (Gray and Leiser 1982). Baets et al. 2007). RLD and D distribution with depth
In this study, RAR information was not obtained was recorded under the crown of the above-ground
from field measurements, but calculated using root biomass for each species as a reference area. Root
length density (RLD) and root diameter (D) informa- length per unit volume was converted into an
Plant Soil (2008) 305:207226 213

equivalent RAR using mean root diameter values. To where ni is the number of 10 cm long roots in each root
convert RLD into RAR for grasses, one mean root diameter class and ai is mean root cross-sectional area
diameter was used per grass species. It was assumed of a root diameter class (m2).
that for grasses root diameter is more or less constant,
that grass roots are oriented vertically and that Soil shear strength
branching occurs parallel to the main root axis. In
reality, this is not the always case, as roots and root The model of Wu et al. (1979) was used to estimate
branches have a different orientation. Using Eq. 2, the increase in soil shear strength due to the presence
total number of roots will be overestimated, but their of roots, because this model allows for simple and
mean cross-sectional area at a certain depth will be quick calculation of soil reinforcement by roots using
underestimated, because when roots cross a cross- tensile strength and root distribution information.
section under a certain angle their cross-sectional area Their model assumes that all roots grow vertically
will be larger. Therefore, assuming roots growing and act as loaded piles, so tension is transferred to
vertically aims at calculating a mean situation, where them as the soil is sheared. The assumption that fibers
overestimation of the number of roots is compensated are oriented perpendicular to the shear plane is a
by the underestimation of root cross-sectional areas. useful simulation because it yields an average
Total root length (m) in the volume determined by estimate of all possible orientations (Gray and Sotir
the vertical orthogonal projection of the above-ground 1996). Plant roots tend to bind the soil together in a
biomass and 0.10 m soil depth classes was converted monolithic mass and contribute to the strength by
into the number of 0.10 m long vertically growing providing an apparent additional cohesion (Abernethy
roots crossing a horizontal cross-section in this soil and Rutherford 2001). If the soil is rooted, the
volume. The number of roots is then multiplied with increased soil shear strength can be expressed as an
the mean cross section area (m2) of a root of a certain additional cohesion:
grass species, assuming that all roots have a circular
sr s Cr 4
cross section. In this way, a mean cross-sectional area
occupied by grass roots is obtained. This value is then where s is soil shear strength (kPa), sr (kPa) is the
divided by the horizontal cross-sectional area deter- shear strength of the soil reinforced by roots and Cr
mined by the vertical orthogonal projection of the (kPa) is the increase in shear strength due to the
above-ground biomass. For grasses, RAR at different presence of roots.
soil depth classes (every 0.10 m), was calculated using When shear forces occur, the root fiber deforms.
the following equation: This deformation causes the fiber to stretch, provided
RL there is sufficient interface friction, confining stress
RARgrass 0:1
2 and anchorage length to lock the fiber in place and to
A prevent slippage or pullout. The fiber elongation
where RL is total root length per soil depth class (m), ai mobilizes the tensile resistance in the fiber (Gray
is mean root cross-sectional area of a representative and Sotir 1996). The tension developed in the roots is
root of the studied grass species (m2) and A is the resolved with a tangential component resisting shear
reference area (m2, determined by the vertical projection and a normal component increasing the confining
of the above-ground biomass of the plant). pressure on the shear plane. The most critical
For shrubs RAR was calculated at different soil assumption of this model implies that all roots attain
depths by digitizing the total length of roots having a ultimate tensile strength simultaneously during soil
similar diameter from digital photographs, then dividing shearing (Simon et al. 2006). The predicted shear
total lengths per diameter by 0.10 m to obtain the strength increase from a full mobilization of root
number of 10 cm long roots for all roots having a similar tensile strength is given by:
diameter and measuring their mean cross-sectional area:
Cr tR sin cos tan 5
where is the angle of shear distortion in the shear
ni  ai
i zone, is the soil friction angle () and tR is the total
A mobilized tensile stress of root fibers per unit area of
214 Plant Soil (2008) 305:207226

soil. This requires the calculation of tensile strength of were calculated to indicate the goodness of fit of these
the roots and the fraction of soil cross-section relationships (Buijs 2000).
occupied by the roots (i.e. RAR) (Gray and Barker P 2
2004). Wu et al. (1979) found that the value of the e = n  m  1
Adjusted R2 1  P  i 2 7
bracket term is relatively insensitive to normal Yi  Y = n  1
variation in and (4090 and 2540 respectively) P 2 P 2
with values ranging from 1.0 to 1.3. In most studies where ei is error sum of squares and Yi  Y
this term is set to an average value of 1.2. is total sum of squares, n is the number of
This study aims at quantifying the additional observations and m is the number of variables in the
cohesion provided by Mediterranean plant roots for model.
very erodible loamy soils. The friction angle of silt To test the interspecies differences in root tensile
equals 25 (Pollen and Simon 2005). For our loamy strength or root cohesion, cluster analysis was
soils the same friction angle of 25 was selected. performed in the statistical program SAS Enterprise
From the results of various shear tests conducted by Guide 4.1 using the average linkage method. Cluster
Waldron (1977) on various root-permeated soils, the analysis groups population elements (e.g. plant
angles of shear distortion varied between 40 and 50. species) based on their values for certain variables
The angle of shear distortion is therefore assumed to (e.g. parameters of the power law equation) into
equal 45. Then, the bracket term of Eq. 5 equals 1.04 groups whereby the similarity in one group is as good
and the equation used in this study to calculate as possible and whereby the differences between
additional cohesion of root systems growing in silt groups are as large as possible (Buijs 2000).
loam soils becomes: To test if root distribution, mean root tensile
P strength or root cohesion vary according to root
Ti ni ai
Cr 1:04 6 architecture (fibrous root systems vs. tap root systems)
A a KruskalWallis test was performed, as the dependent
where Ti is root tensile strength (MPa), ni is the variables are not normally distributed.
number of roots in a diameter class, i is root diameter Spearman correlation coefficients were established
class, ai is the root cross-sectional area (m2) and A is to assess correlation between root cohesion values
the reference area of soil occupied by roots (m2). and root variables (i.e. Tr and RAR).
Recent studies (Operstein and Frydman 2000;
Pollen and Simon 2005) indicate that estimating the
additional root cohesion with the simple perpendicu- Results
lar model of Wu et al. (1979) overestimates the true
cohesion added to the soil, because Wus model Root tensile strength
assumes that all roots break simultaneously, whereas
in reality and in most cases (1) roots can either be As reported in several studies (e.g. Operstein and
stretched, pulled out or break and (2) rupture will Frydman 2000; Tosi 2007; Norris 2005; Mattia et al.
occur progressively. In some cases, for quick shear 2005; Bischetti et al. 2005) root tensile strength (Tr)
forces, rupture can also occur almost simultaneously decreases with increasing root diameter (D), following
(Mickovski et al. 2007). Therefore, the calculated root a power law equation of the form:
cohesion values in this study are maximum values. Tr aDb 8
Nevertheless, these maximum values are still useful to
rank species according to their soil reinforcing The TrD relationships for the species tested in this
potential. study are shown in Fig. 3. Table 1 presents the
parameters and the adjusted-R2 values for the estab-
Statistical analysis
Fig. 3 Root tensile strength (Tr, MPa) plotted against root b
diameter (D, mm) for roots of 25 typical Mediterranean plants
Power law equations were fitted through the root according to vegetation type: a shrubs, b herbs, reed, rush and
tensile strength diameter relationships using SAS trees, c grasses. Pred Tr represents the predicted tensile strength
Enterprise Guide 4.1. Adjusted R2 values (Eq. 7) values according to the relationships listed in Table 1
Plant Soil (2008) 305:207226 215

Shrubs Shrubs
300 Fumana 300
Teucrium Artemisia
250 Atriplex
250 Atriplex

Pred Tr (MPa)
200 200 Salsola
Tr (MPa)

150 Dorycnium 150
100 Retama
100 Retama
50 50

0 0
0 2 4 6 8 0 2 4 6 8
D (mm) D (mm)

b Herbs, reeds and trees Herbs, reeds and trees

300 300

250 250
Phragmites Phragmites
200 200
Pred T r (MPa)

Tr (MPa)

Limonium 150
150 Plantago

100 100

50 50

0 2 4 6 8
0 2 4 6 8
D (mm)
D (mm)
c Grasses


250 250
200 Helictotrichon 200
Pred Tr (MPa)

Tr (MPa)

150 Brachypodium
150 Brachypodium
100 100 Piptatherum

50 50

0 1 2 3
0 1 2 3
D (mm) D (mm)
216 Plant Soil (2008) 305:207226

Table 1 Parameters (a and b values) and adjusted R2 values for the power relationships (Eq. 8), expressing the decrease in root tensile
strength with increasing root diameter for 25 typical Mediterranean plant species

Plant species name Vegetation type D range (mm) a b n Adjusted-R2 Grouping

Atriplex halimus Shrub 0.234.68 45.59 0.56 38 0.52 a

Salsola genistoides Shrub 0.303.84 44.23 0.51 26 0.58 a
Brachypodium retusum Grass 0.101.45 45.05 0.61 33 0.71 a
Thymelaea hirsuta Shrub 0.182.70 33.31 0.64 52 0.55 b
Phragmites australis Reed 0.107.91 34.29 0.78 20 0.92 b
Limonium supinum Herb 0.343.90 33.82 0.85 30 0.55 b
Tamarix canariensis Tree 0.104.80 31.74 0.89 55 0.42 b
Artemisia barrelieri Shrub 0.162.15 30.12 0.61 32 0.37 b
Stipa tenacissima Grass 0.431.34 24.34 0.61 57 0.22 c
Juncus acutus Rush 0.181.10 23.23 0.89 45 0.66 c
Fumana thymifolia Shrub 0.192.43 15.71 0.66 52 0.53 d
Dorycnium pentaphyllum Shrub 0.274.35 16.32 0.62 48 0.31 d
Teucrium capitatum Shrub 0.222.60 18.72 0.45 51 0.40 d
Dittrichia viscosa Shrub 0.305.50 18.94 0.45 54 0.30 d
Thymus zygis Shrub 0.122.88 19.31 0.73 34 0.63 d
Lygeum spartum Grass 0.262.72 19.28 0.68 50 0.44 d
Plantago albicans Herb 0.212.55 16.75 0.52 50 0.47 d
Rosmarinus officinalis Shrub 0.163.60 12.89 0.77 54 0.63 e
Helictotrichon filifolium Grass 0.341.22 14.51 1.08 53 0.42 e
Piptatherum miliaceum Grass 0.100.64 11.49 1.77 48 0.63 e
Avenula bromoides Grass 0.150.32 4.77 1.52 52 0.60 f
Nerium oleander Shrub 0.094.11 4.41 1.75 30 0.91 f
Ononis tridentata Shrub 0.885.53 9.59 n.s. 46 n.a. n.a.
Anthyllis cytisoides Shrub 0.517.03 8.43 n.s. 54 n.a. n.a.
Retama sphaerocarpa Shrub 0.413.77 16.36 n.s. 28 n.a. n.a.

The species are grouped from having strong to having weak roots in tension. n indicates the number of roots tested per species. n.s.
means not significant and n.a. means not available

lished power law relationships. The diameter range Mean root tensile strength does not differ signifi-
wherefore the tensile tests were performed is also cantly (p=0.12) according to vegetation type (mono-
indicated in Table 1 for each plant species. Generally, cotyledons vs. dicots). However, from the graphs in
tensile strength can be well predicted by root Fig. 3, interspecies differences in the TrD relation-
diameter, except for Ononis tridentata, Anthyllis ships can be observed. Plant species with high tensile
cytisoides and Retama sphaerocarpa. For these strength values for small roots and with a low decay
species, no significant relationship between tensile coefficient (b-value) for the decreasing relationship
strength and root diameter could be observed and between Tr and D are preferred. A cluster analysis
hence mean tensile strength values will be used to was performed to group species according to their a
predict root reinforcement. The maximum root tensile and b values from the power relationship predicting Tr
strength values recorded during testing amount to with D. Six clusters could be distinguished. For three
303 MPa for Nerium oleander (D=0.09 mm) and species, i.e. Ononis tridentata, Anthyllis cytisoides
267.5 MPa for Tamarix canariensis (D=0.1 mm). and Retama sphaerocarpa, no significant b-parameters
Root tensile strength values (Fig. 3) are in the same could be established and hence these species were
range of root tensile strength values reported by excluded from the cluster analysis. In Table 1, the
Bischetti et al. (2005) for forest species in Northern species are grouped from having strong roots (i.e. high
Italy (e.g. Salix caprea, Salix purpurea). Gray and a values and low b values) to having weak roots (i.e.
Barker (2004) report that shrubs have tensile strengths low a values and high b values). The results show that
comparable to trees. the shrubs Salsola genistoides and Atriplex halimus
Plant Soil (2008) 305:207226 217

have the strongest roots. Also shrubs such as Artemisia Shrubs

barrelieri and Thymelaea hirsuta have strong roots.
0.000 0.005 0.010 0.015 0.020 0.025
Among grasses, Brachypodium retusum has the stron-
gest roots, followed by Stipa tenacissima. Phragmites
australis roots are stronger when compared to Juncus 0.1 Dittrichia
acutus roots. Also the tree Tamarix canariensis and the 0.2
herb Limonium supinum have strong roots. The shrub
0.3 Fumana
Nerium oleander and the grass Avenula bromoides Teucrium

Depth (m)
have the weakest roots in tension. Although having 0.4 Dorycnium
very strong small diameter roots, Tr decreases very Ononis
0.5 Anthyllis
rapidly to low Tr values with increasing D for these
plant species. 0.6
Root distribution Artemisia

0.8 Salsola
A large variability in reference area (A), determined 0.9 Herbs, reed, rush and trees
by the diameter of the vertical projection of the RAR
above-ground biomass (DSV), exists as both small and 0.0000 0.0025 0.0050 0.0075 0.0100
large species are considered. For more detailed
information about the size characteristics of the 0.1

studied species reference is made to De Baets et al. 0.2

(2007). The distribution of roots over the different
root diameter classes is also highly variable for the 0.3
Depth (m)

species, but some general trends can be observed for 0.4 Juncus
the different vegetation types; whereas for grasses and Phragmites
0.5 Limonium
herbs the largest proportion of their root biomass
consists of roots smaller than 5 mm in diameter, for 0.6

shrubs and trees root distribution over the different 0.7

root diameter classes is highly variable (De Baets
et al. 2007).
The grasses and the rush Juncus acutus have a 0.9
typically dense and fibrous root system (Fig. 1a,d RAR
and g), whereas many shrub species (e.g. Atriplex 0.000 0.005 0.010 0.015 0.020 0.025
halimus, Salsola genistoides) have a typical tap root
system with branching (Fig. 1b,i). RAR distribution 0.1 Dittrichia
with depth for the 25 typical Mediterranean plant Retama
species is shown in Fig. 4. The RAR values per soil Thymelaea
depth class (0.1 m deep) are represented for the 0.3
Depth (m)

middle of the class and are average values over five 0.4 Dorycnium
medium size plants. Overall, Mediterranean plant Ononis
0.5 Anthyllis
roots occupy less than 1% of the area under the
crown of the plants. RAR for the 00.1 m topsoil 0.6
ranges over one order of magnitude, from 0.08% for Rosmarinus
the grass Piptatherum miliaceum to 0.8% for the tree Artemisia
Tamarix canariensis. Greenway (1987) report RAR 0.8
values for the topsoil up to 0.5%. Standard errors on 0.9
RAR for different soil depths are presented in Table 2
for a selection of plant species. Generally, standard Fig. 4 Root area ratio (RAR) distribution with depth for 25
errors are small (Table 2). Mean topsoil RAR values typical Mediterranean plant species
218 Plant Soil (2008) 305:207226

Table 2 Mean Root area ratio (RAR, ) values and standard errors (SE) at different soil depths for typical Mediterranean plant species

Name of the species Vegetation type N Soil depth (m) Mean RAR SE

Avenula bromoides Grass 5 0.05 0.0033 0.0020

Lygeum spartum Grass 5 0.15 0.0010 0.0006
0.05 0.0066 0.0017
0.15 0.0025 0.0008
0.25 0.0002 0.0004
Helictotrichon filifolium Grass 5 0.05 0.0066 0.0013
0.15 0.0026 0.0015
Retama sphaerocarpa Shrub 4 0.05 0.0081 0.0012
0.15 0.0062 0.0021
0.25 0.0055 0.0006
0.35 0.0027 0.0002
Salsola genistoides Shrub 5 0.05 0.0031 0.0004
0.15 0.0033 0.0014
0.25 0.0010 0.0005
0.35 0.0005 0.0002
Atriplex halimus Shrub 5 0.05 0.0047 0.0009
0.15 0.0048 0.0015
0.25 0.0018 0.0005
0.35 0.0007 0.0002
0.45 0.0005 0.0002
Dittrichia viscosa Shrub 6 0.05 0.0044 0.0006
0.15 0.0018 0.0005
0.25 0.0012 0.0001
Thymus zygis Shrub 5 0.05 0.0024 0.0002
0.15 0.0004 0.0001
Limonium supinum Herb 5 0.05 0.0023 0.0007
0.15 0.0002 0.0001

N indicates the number of tested individuals per plant species

(00.3 m) for the studied fibrous root systems (all cohesion (Cr) provided by the root systems of
grasses and the rush Juncus acutus) are not significantly different Mediterranean plant species, calculated with
different from mean topsoil RAR for the studied tap Wus model, is shown in Fig. 5. It must be stressed
root systems (all shrubs, herbs, the reed Phragmites that these calculated Cr values must be seen as
australis and the tree Tamarix canariensis). P-values
for these non-parametric tests are shown in Table 3.
Table 3 P-values from the KruskalWallis test, indicating the
Mean RAR values for the deeper soil layers (e.g. 0.3 significance (at the 0.05 level) of the difference between mean
0.4 m) are significantly (p=0.02) higher for tap root root cohesion (Cr) and mean RAR values for fibrous root
systems as compared to fibrous root systems, as almost systems and tap root systems
no grass roots were present at this depth.

Root cohesion Cr (00.1 m) 0.0025*

Cr (0.10.2 m) 0.0458*
By combining root strengthdiameter relationships or Cr (0.20.3 m) 0.0849
mean root tensile strength (for Ononis tridentata, RAR (00.1 m) 0.8321
RAR (0.10.2 m) 0.3797
Anthyllis cytisoides and Retama sphaerocarpa) with
RAR (0.20.3 m) 0.1176
RAR distributions the potential soil reinforcement by
roots was estimated using Eq. 6. Additional root Asterisk (*) indicates a significant difference
Plant Soil (2008) 305:207226 219

Fig. 5 Additional cohesion (Cr) distribution transmitted by the b Shrubs Cr (kPa)

root system to the soil for 25 typical Mediterranean plant 0 40 80 120 160
species 0

relative values, as recent studies report an overesti- Dittrichia
mation of root cohesions calculated with Wus model Retama
(Operstein and Frydman 2000; Pollen and Simon 0.3 Thymelaea
2005). Reinforcement generally decreases with in- Fumana

Depth (m)
0.4 Teucrium
creasing soil depth, although root cohesion may
locally increase with increasing soil depth where root 0.5
area ratio increases. The occurrence of high RAR or Anthyllis
root density values at greater depths probably origi- Atriplex
nates from a nutrient rich layer (Weaver and Clements 0.7 Thymus
1938) or more moist soil conditions (Manschadi et al.
0.8 Artemisia
1998) at certain depths. The results (Fig. 5) show that Salsola
grass roots of Helictotrichon filifolium, Avenula 0.9 Nerium
bromoides, Lygeum spartum and Brachypodium retu- Herbs, reed, rush and trees
Cr (kPa)
sum highly increase the soil cohesion in the 00.1 m 0 100 200 300 400
topsoil (i.e. from 100 up to 244 kPa). Juncus acutus 0
provides the maximum root reinforcement (304 kPa).
Shrubs such as Anthyllis cytisoides or Retama
sphaerocarpa can also increase soil shear strength in 0.2
the topsoil to a large extent (up to 160 kPa). The
0.3 Tamarix
KruskalWallis test reveals that mean root cohesion in
Depth (m)

the topsoil (00.2 m) is significantly higher for 0.4
topsoils reinforced with fibrous roots (the studied Limonium
grasses and Juncus) as compared to topsoils rein- Plantago
forced with tap roots (all tested shrubs, herbs and 0.6

trees) (Table 3). In deeper soil layers (0.20.3 m) root

cohesion provided by the studied fibrous root systems
is not significantly different anymore (p=0.08) from 0.8

the studied tap root systems. 0.9

Cr (kPa)
0 100 200 300 400
Discussion 0

Root tensile strengthdiameter relationships
The decrease in root tensile strength with increasing
0.3 Lygeum
root diameter was explained by Genet et al. (2005) by Helictotrichon
differences in root structure. These authors attribute
Depth (m)

0.4 Avenula
this adverse relationship to the higher cellulose Stipa
content in fine roots. They observed that tensile 0.5 Piptatherum
strength increased with decreasing root diameter and Brachypodium
increasing cellulose content for Pinus pinaster and
Castanea sativa. 0.7

The absence of a relationship between root tensile

strength and root diameter for Ononis tridentata,
Anthyllis cytisoides and Retama sphaerocarpa is not 0.9
220 Plant Soil (2008) 305:207226

surprising, given the number of factors other than root

diameter controlling Tr. Variations in root age (Genet
et al. 2005), growth rate, directed by variations in soil
moisture content, soil texture and nutrient status, can
be held responsible for the variability in root tensile
strength (Pollen and Simon 2005). The inclusion of
root bark can also explain the poor correlation
between tensile strength and root diameter for
the species mentioned. Ononis tridentata, Anthyllis
cytisoides and Retama sphaerocarpa had rather thick
root barks. Karrenberg et al. (2003) claim that total
root diameter is not a reliable indicator for species
having root barks with a considerable thickness. The
cortex of a root tissue will contribute to the uprooting
resistance by increasing the rootsoil friction through
bark roughness, but is of minor importance when the
mechanical properties of the inside root material are
much better than those of the bark (Karrenberg et al. 250
Lygeum this study
Operstein and Frydman (2000) and Mattia et al. Lygeum Pred this study
(2005) also measured root tensile strength for three
Lygeum Pred M attia
plant species that have been investigated in this study
as well. In Fig. 6 the results of this study were 150
T r (M P a )

compared with the predicted root tensile strength

values based on the relationships found in other
studies. It can be observed that the parameters from
the equations have lower values and hence the roots
are weaker in tension in this study as compared with 50
other studies (Table 4). The stronger predicted roots
tensile strength values for Rosmarinus officinalis
reported in the study of Operstein and Frydman
0 1 2 3 4 5
(2000) are probably not related to differences in the
D (mm)
method of storage, but can be related to the time
between collecting and storing the roots. Whereas in 250 Rosm arinus this study
the study of Operstein and Frydman (2000) only fresh
roots were tested, in this study roots were stored in an Rosmarinus Pred this study
alcohol solution for several weeks. But Bischetti et al. 200
(2003) showed that storing the roots in alcohol for Rosm arinus P red O perstein &
several months did not much affect tensile strength. Frydman (2000)
T r (M P a )

The roots of Atriplex halimus and Lygeum spartum

tested both by Mattia et al. (2005) and in this study,
were stored the same way, but the time between 100
collecting the roots and putting them in an alcohol
solution might have differed. It might be that the 50

Fig. 6 Root tensile strength (Tr) root diameter (D) relation- b 0

ships for three Mediterranean plant species reported in different
studies. Pred indicates predicted values of root tensile strength 0 1 2 3 4 5
(Tr) D (mm)
Plant Soil (2008) 305:207226 221

Table 4 Established relationships between root tensile strength (Tr) and root diameter (D) for different plant species and different

Plant species name Equation R2 Reference

Rosmarinus officinalis Tr =12.89D0.77 0.63 This study

Rosmarinus officinalis Tr =34.66D0.78 n.a. Operstein and Frydman (2000)
Atriplex halimus Tr =45.59D0.56 0.52 This study
Atriplex halimus Tr =72.97D0.60 0.30 Mattia et al. (2005)
Lygeum spartum Tr =19.28D0.68 0.44 This study
Lygeum spartum Tr =60.73D1.30 0.38 Mattia et al. (2005)

R2 indicates the goodness of fit of the model. n.a. means not available

study area in which the species were collected had an by wind, lower test speeds were reported (i.e. 5 mm/min,
effect on the observed strengthdiameter relation- Ennos et al. 1993). In this study a test speed was
ships. The time of harvest, in drought of in humid selected similar to the one reported in other studies
periods, can also play a role. Whereas the species simulating the same process (e.g. Mattia et al. 2005,
tested by Mattia et al. (2005) were sampled in a Bischetti et al. 2003), i.e. 10 mm/min. However, when
catchment in southern Italy with mean annual rainfall a critical tensile strength has to be assessed for very
of 640 mm on clay soils, the tested species for this slow soil erosion processes, tensile strength tests should
study were sampled in a much drier environment be performed at a smaller test speed. Cofie and Koolen
(mean annual rainfall of 290 mm, FAO 2005) on (2001) show an increase in the stress-strain relation-
Quaternary loam deposits or marls. Although, Pollen ships with increasing elongation rate. This indicates that
(2007) and Tosi (2007) found no significant differ- when roots are stretched at velocities lower than
ence in tensile breaking strength according to soil 10 mm/min, roots may support lower stresses than the
moisture or root moisture content respectively, Gray ones measured in this study.
and Barker (2004) on the other hand claim that tensile
strengths vary significantly when tested in an air dry Root area ratio calculation
or in a moist state. It is most probable that differences
in environmental growth conditions such as soil The obtained RAR values should be treated with
texture, soil moisture or external stresses (e.g. grazing caution, as the assumptions made for the calculations
and wind) explain the observed differences in root are not validated with measurements. Nevertheless,
strength. It must be highlighted that the adjusted R2 the obtained RAR values are in the same order of the
values for the relationships presented in Fig. 6 are RAR values measured by Mattia et al. (2005).
rather low and even lower for the results reported in Theoretical calculations on roots that were assumed
the study of Mattia et al. (2005) as compared to this to grow under a given angle (30 or 45 from vertical)
study. for a similar root length justify the assumptions.
According to Tosi (2007) differences between in Similar RAR values were obtained for roots (1)
situ tensile forces required for breaking a root and growing vertically, (2) under an angle of 30 and (3)
laboratory tensile strength values for root diameters under an angle of 45 for the same total root length in
<5 mm, are negligible. In spite of this, test speed a given volume of soil (Table 5). In other words, the
might be important. In order to determine an overestimation of total number of roots crossing a
appropriate test speed, the process of interest should cross-sectional plane was compensated by the under-
be considered. The expansion or retreat of gully estimation of root cross-sectional area for situation (1)
systems by mass movements occurs by falls, slides or as compared to situations (2) or (3).
slumps, at a speed that is much faster than soil creep As it is difficult to put grass roots in their original
(i.e. > a few mm/year), but these velocities can be position after excavation, small errors might have
extremely variable. Velocities ranging between 1 occurred while assigning roots to a certain depth
300 mm/min are recorded for rapid landslides class. Topsoil RAR values for grasses might therefore
(Cruden and Varnes 1996). To simulate root lodging be underestimated, whereas root length, root number
222 Plant Soil (2008) 305:207226

Table 5 Theoretical calculations of root area ratio (RAR) for three different situations of root growth direction: (1) roots growing
vertically, (2) roots growing under an angle of 30 from vertical, (3) roots growing under an angle of 45 from vertical


(1) (2) (3)

Root angle () 0 30 45
Root length (m) 10 10 10
Number of roots 100 90.9 71.4
ar (m2) 0.25 10-6 0.28 10-6 0.35 10-6
RAR (-) 0.0250 10-4 0.0255 10-4 0.0252 10-4

ar is mean root cross-sectional area (m2 )

and RAR values for grasses at larger depth might be from the broken fibers is distributed evenly between
overestimated. However, the maximum depth at the remaining intact fibers, according to their diam-
which roots were growing in the soil was recorded eters (Pollen and Simon 2005). Pollen and Simon
and after excavation roots were laid out in such a way (2005) found that in cases where driving forces were
that no roots exceeded this maximum depth. Hence, large enough to break all roots, the perpendicular
these errors are assumed to be very small. model overestimated root reinforcement by up to
100% as compared to the calculations they performed
Root reinforcement with the fiber bundle model RipRoot. The overesti-
mation even increases an order of magnitude in model
In this study root cohesion (Cr) was calculated using a runs where the driving forces did not exceed root
simple perpendicular model and ranges between strength. From the results reported by Pollen and
0.07 kPa for the shrub Nerium oleander and Simon (2005), it seems that for grasses a reduction
304 kPa for the rush Juncus acutus. Greenway factor of 0.48 needs to be adopted, whereas for trees
(1987) reports root cohesion values up to 40 kPa for the reduction factor ranges between 0.6 and 0.82.
trees. Perpendicular root models can be considered These reduction factors depend on plant species and
static models. In fact, they estimate maximum root on the number of roots crossing the shear plane.
reinforcement as they assume that all roots in a soil Operstein and Frydman (2000) reported an over-
matrix reach their maximum tensile strength when estimation of root cohesion values by up to 400%
breaking at a single instance in time. However, in calculated according to Wus model. They observed
reality, as a soil block shears, the roots within this lower increase in soil shear strength measured during
block have different tensile strengths and thus break in situ shear test as compared with the model
progressively, with an associated redistribution of the estimates provided by the equation of Wu. These
stress as each root breaks (Pollen and Simon 2005). authors presented the following equation for the
Moreover, during soil shearing, some roots break, increase in soil shear strength (Cr) due to the presence
some are just stretched and some intact roots are of plant roots, using the total mobilized tensile
pulled out of the soil. Pollen (2007) reports that root strength of root fibers per unit area of soil (tR)
breaking is likely to be the dominant mode of root based on direct shear tests and in situ root pull-out
failure in dry soils or those with high shear strengths, measurements:
whereas soils that are moist or have lower soil
strength will exhibit greater root pull-out than Cr 0:25 tR 9
breaking. Applying Wus model will thus always
account for the maximum possible increase in soil On the basis of the simple theoretical model of Wu
shear strength by assuming that all roots break and et al. (1979) the increase in soil shear strength
that they break simultaneously. amounts approximately to 1.2 tR. This means that a
During recent years, a new model has been reduction factor of 0.21 should be applied according
developed to estimate additional root cohesion. This to Operstein and Frydman (2000). The root cohesion
so-called fiber bundle model assumes that the load values obtained in this study (Fig. 5) thus must not be
Plant Soil (2008) 305:207226 223

Cr (kPa)
cohesion values found by Mattia et al. (2005).
0 25 50 75 100 125
Differences in RAR values probably result from
differences in plant size and environmental growth
0.1 conditions between both studies.
Relative contribution of root density and root tensile
0.3 strength to root reinforcement
Depth (m)

Abernethy and Rutherford (2001) state that interspe-
0.5 cies differences in tensile strength are probably less
Atriplex this study
significant in increasing soil shear strength than are
0.6 interspecies differences in root distribution. Simon
Atriplex Mattia et al. (2005) and Collison (2002) also report that both for woody
Lygeum this study
species and for grasses, overall, root area ratio is more
0.8 important than root strength for increasing soil shear
Lygeum Mattia et al. (2005) strength. The model used to calculate additional
cohesion (Eq. 6) also indicates that for a given root
Fig. 7 Root cohesion (Cr) distribution within the soil reported area, smaller root diameters will yield a larger root
in different studies for two Mediterranean plant species cohesion values than larger diameter roots (Waldron
and Dakessian 1982) as smaller roots are stronger per
regarded at as correct absolute values. In reality, based unit area. van Beek et al. (2005) also report that fine
on the data reported by Operstein and Frydman root content is an important factor explaining root
(2000) and Pollen and Simon (2005), root cohesion reinforcement of the topsoil. The non-linear relation-
provided by the roots of these species, will be much ship between root diameter and strength led several
lower as presented in Fig. 5. So, for purposes where authors to suggest that the optimum life-form for
correct absolute additional root cohesion values are shallow slope stabilization are grasses and shrubs,
required, the values presented in this study are to be which combine large numbers of small, strong roots
reduced by factors probably ranging between 0.21 and with little surcharge (Simon and Collison 2002).
0.82, depending on soil properties, plant species and the Waldron and Dakessian (1982) found that some
number of roots crossing a potential shear plane. It is grasses gave about a threefold increase in soil
therefore recommended to perform in situ shear strength shearing resistance as compared to rootless soils. Tree
measurements or to use more sophisticated models, roots produced shear resistance comparable to grass
such as RipRoot, for more accurate calculations. roots only after a much longer period of growth
Nevertheless, the relative order of species, based on (Waldron and Dakessian 1982). In this study, mean
the maximum values obtained with Wus model, allows root cohesion in the topsoil (00.2 m) was signifi-
one to make a selection of the most suitable species for cantly higher for topsoils reinforced with fibrous roots
application in erosion control measures. (grasses and the rush Juncus) as compared to topsoils
Root cohesion values for Atriplex halimus and reinforced with tap root systems (shrubs, herbs, trees
Lygeum spartum obtained in this study were com- and the reed Phragmites). This study supports the
pared with the results reported by Mattia et al. (2005). findings of Davidson et al. (1991). In their study the
The method used to calculate root cohesion was increase of soil reinforcement by roots was also
similar in both studies. Figure 7 shows that root smaller for species with a tap root system than for
cohesion values reported in this study are higher than plants with a more diffuse pattern for a similar root
the ones reported by Mattia et al. (2005). Although mass. In this study plants having a fibrous root system
Mattia et al. (2005) report stronger tensile strength did not have significantly higher root area ratios as
diameter relationships for these species (Fig. 2), they compared to plants having tap root systems, but for
described root area ratios for the topsoil being one soils permeated by plants having fibrous root systems
order of magnitude smaller than the root area ratios the large number of fine strong roots resulted in the
reported in this study. This explains the lower root highest amount of soil reinforcement.
224 Plant Soil (2008) 305:207226

One may not forget that roots cannot increase ephemeral valley floors, to prevent channel deepening
the soil shearing resistance unless many of them (De Baets et al. 2007).
grow into and through the potential shear surfaces
(Waldron and Dakessian 1982). Cammeraat et al.
(2005) claim that the root reinforcing effect of Conclusions
Mediterranean vegetation is limited and only present
in the upper 0.4 m of topsoil. The results of this Generally, smaller diameter roots had higher tensile
study (Fig. 5) confirm this finding: only the top strengths, but the decline in root tensile strength with
0.5 m of gully walls, hillslopes or terraces can be increasing root diameter varied for the 25 tested
well stabilized by Mediterranean matorral species. Mediterranean plant species. Although having many
Many failures, however, occur at greater depths fine roots, not all grass species appeared to have
(1.01.2 m), and anchorage by roots is often strong roots. Whereas the grasses Brachypodium
absent there. So, anchoring the soil over a large retusum and Lygeum spartum had strong roots,
depth is important as well. The plants discussed in Avenula bromoides had very weak roots. The shrubs
this study can only reinforce the soil over a depth Salsola genistoides and Atriplex halimus had the
of 0.5 m. Hence, walls of gullies higher than strongest roots, whereas the roots from Nerium
0.5 m can generally not be stabilized by Mediter- oleander were easily broken. Phragmites australis
ranean shrubs. Root type and soil moisture roots were found to be stronger as compared with
conditions are important as well. With a low tap Juncus acutus roots. The tree Tamarix canariensis
root density and very wet soil conditions, soil and the herb Limonium supinum also had strong roots.
might flow (i.e. liquefaction) around the tap roots The area occupied by roots, relative to the area
(Cammeraat et al. 2005). According to Reubens et determined by the vertical projection of the above-
al. (2007) a woody species with a large, deep and ground biomass, was highest for the tree Tamarix
strong central part of the root system, having some canariensis (0.8%) and lowest for the grass Piptathe-
rigid vertical roots penetrating deeply into the soil rum miliaceum (0.08%). The simple perpendicular
and anchoring into firm strata, as well as a large model of Wu was then used to calculate soil
number of finer roots numerously branching from reinforcement by action of roots. The rush Juncus
the main lateral roots would be most effective to acutus provided the highest increase in soil shear
increase slope stability at shallow depth. strength in the topsoil (i.e. 304 kPa), followed by
most grasses, providing an additional cohesion up to
Implications for erosion protection strategies 244 kPa (Brachypodium retusum) and the shrubs
Retama sphaerocarpa and Anthyllis cytisoides, in-
Grasses, such as Lygeum spartum, Helictotrichon creasing soil cohesion up to 134 and 160 kPa
filifolium or Brachypodium retusum, increasing soil respectively. The results show that whereas grasses
shear strength from 100 up to 244 kPa, can be planted and the rush Juncus increase soil shear strength in the
on terrace walls to stabilize the 00.20 m topsoil. topsoil (00.10 m) to a large extent, the shrubs
Helictotrichon filifolium and Brachypodium retusum Anthyllis cytisoides, Retama sphaerocarpa, Salsola
will grow well on north-facing slopes, whereas genistoides and Atriplex halimus strongly reinforce
Lygeum spartum is better resistant to drought. Lygeym the soil to a greater depth (00.5 m).
spartum can be planted as well in natural drainage Larger root cohesion values were obtained in this
lines or on gully bottoms to prevent soil detachment study as compared with those reported in other
by water (De Baets et al. 2007). More deeply rooted studies. This is not surprising, as environmental
shrubs, such as Anthyllis cytisoides, Salsola genis- factors affect root distribution. Moreover, previous
toides, Atriplex halimus or Retama sphaerocarpa can studies using other techniques or more sophisticated
be used to stabilize gully walls as they provide an models to calculate root cohesion, report an overes-
extra cohesion up to 0.50 m soil depth. The tree timation of the predicted root cohesion values using
Tamarix canariensis can be planted for preventing Wus model. However, for the purpose of this study,
mass movements on riverbanks. The rush Juncus which aimed at evaluating plant species for preventing
acutus can be planted in moist environments, such as shallow mass movements, the obtained root cohesion
Plant Soil (2008) 305:207226 225

values could be used to rank species according to their Ennos AR, Crook MJ, Grimshaw C (1993) A comparative
potential for slope stabilization. study of the anchorage systems of Himalyan Balsam
Impatiens glandulifera and Mature Sunflower Helicanthus
annuus. J Exp Bot 258:133146
Acknowledgements This research is part of the RECONDES FAO (2005) New_LocClim software local climate estimator.
(Conditions for Restoration and Mitigation of Desertified Areas Environment and Natural Resources Working Paper N
Using Vegetation) project funded by the European Commission, 20. Environment and Natural Resources Service, FAO,
Directorate-General of Research, Global Change and Desertifi- Rome, Italy (CD-ROM)
cation Programme, Project No. GOCE-CT-2003505361. Genet M, Stokes A, Salin F, Mickovski SB, Fourcaud T,
Dumail J, van Beek R (2005) The influence of cellulose
content on tensile strength in tree roots. Plant Soil 278:19
References Gray DH, Barker D (2004) Root-soil mechanics and interactions.
In: Bennett JJ, Simon A (eds) Riparian vegetation and
Abernethy B, Rutherford ID (2001) The distribution and fluvial geomorphology. Water Science and Application 8.
strength of riparian tree roots in relation to riverbank American Geophyisical Union, New York, pp 113123
reinforcement. Hydrol Process 15:6379 Gray DH, Leiser AT (1982) Biotechnical slope protection and
Aerts R, Maes W, November E, Behailu M, Poesen J, Deckers J, erosion control. Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, New
Hermy M, Muys B (2006) Surface runoff and seed trapping York, p 271
efficiency of shrubs in a regenerating semiarid woodland in Gray DH, Sotir RB (1996) Biotechnical and Soil Bioengineering
northern Ethiopia. Catena 65:6170 Slope Stabilization: a practical guide for erosion control.
Bischetti GB, Bonfanti F, Greppi M (2003) Misura della Wiley, Toronto, p 365
resitenza alla trazione delle radice: apparato sperimentale Greenway DR (1987) Vegetation and slope stability. In:
e metodologica danalisi. Quaderni di Idronomia Montana. Anderson MG, Richards KS (eds) Slope stability: geo-
21:349360 (in Italian) technical engineering and geomorphology. Wiley, Chichester,
Bischetti GB, Chiaradia EA, Simonato T, Speziali B, Vitali B, pp 187230
Vullo P, Zocco A (2005) Root strength and root area ratio Greenwood JR (2005) SLIP4EX A program for routine slope
of forest species in Lombardy (Northern Italy). Plant Soil stability analysis to include the effects of vegetation,
278:1122 reinforcement and hydrological changes. Plant Soil
Bhm W (1979) Methods of studying root systems. Springer, 24:449465
Heidelberg Gyssels G, Poesen J, Bochet E, Li Y (2005) Impact of plant
Buijs A (2000) Statistiek om Mee Verder te Werken. Stenfert roots on the resistance of soils to erosion by water: a
Kroese, Groningen review. Prog Phys Geog 29:189217
Cammeraat E, van Beek R, Kooijman A (2005) Vegetation Karrenberg S, Blaser S, Kollmann J, Speck T, Edwards PJ
succession and its consequences for slope stability in SE (2003) Root anchorage of saplings and cuttings of woody
Spain. Plant Soil 278:135147 pioneer species in a riparian environment. Funct Ecol
Castillo VM, Mosch WM, Conesa Garcia C, Barbera GG, 17:170177
Navarro Cano JA, Lopez-Bermudez F (2007) Effectiveness Lesschen JP, Kok K, Verburg PH, Cammeraat LH (2007)
and geomorphological impacts of check dams for soil Identification of vulnerable areas for gully erosion under
erosion control in a semiarid Mediterranean catchment: El different scenarios of land abandonment in Southeast
Crvavo (Murcia, Spain). Catena 70:416427 Spain. Catena 71:110121
Cofie P, Koolen AJ (2001) Test speed and other factors Manschadi AM, Sauerborn J, Sttzel H, Gbel W, Saxena
affecting the measurements of tree root properties used in MC (1998) Simulation of faba bean root system
soil reinforcement models. Soil Tillage Res 63:5156 development under Mediterranean conditions. Eur J
Cruden DM, Varnes DJ (1996) Landslide types and processes. Agron 9:259272
In: Turner AK, Schuster RL (eds) Special report 247: Mattia C, Bischetti GB, Gentile F (2005) Biotechnical
landslides, investigation and mitigation. Transportation characteristics of root systems of typical Mediterranean
Research Board, National Research Council, National species. Plant Soil 278:2332
Academy Press, Washington, D.C., pp 3671 Mickovski SB, Bengough AG, Bransby MF, Davies MCR,
Davidson DW, Kapustka LA, Koch RG (1991) The role of Hallett PD, Sonneberg R (2007) The effect of willow roots
plant root distribution and strength in moderating erosion on the shear strength of soil. In: Dazzi C (ed) Changing
of red clay in the Lake Superior watershed. Trans Wis soils in a changing world: the soils of tomorrow. Book of
Acad Sci Arts Lett 77:5163 Abstracts of the 5th international congress of the European
De Baets S, Poesen J, Knapen A, Barber GG, Navarro JA Society for Soil Conservation (ESCC), Palermo University,
(2007) Root characteristics of representative Mediterranean June 2530, 2007, p 117
plant species and their erosion-reducing potential during Morgan RPC (2005) Soil erosion and conservation, 3rd edn.
concentrated runoff. Plant Soil 294:169183 Blackwell, Oxford (UK), p 299
Dupuy L, Fourcaud T, Stokes A (2005) A numerical investigation Norris JE (2005) Root reinforcement by hawthorn and oak
into the influence of soil type and root architecture on tree roots on a highway cut-slope in Southern England. Plant
anchorage. Plant Soil 278:119134 Soil 278:4353
Ennos AR (1990) The anchorage of leek seedlings the effect Operstein V, Frydman S (2000) The influence of vegetation on
of root length and soil strength. Ann Bot 65:409416 soil strength. Ground Improv 4:8189
226 Plant Soil (2008) 305:207226

Poesen JWA, Hooke JM (1997) Erosion, flooding and channel Simon A, Collison A (2002) Quantifying the mechanical and
management in Mediterranean environments of southern hydrological effects of riparian vegetation on streambank
Europe. Prog Phys Geogr 21:157199 stability. Earth Surf Process Landf 27:527546
Poesen J, Nachtergaele J, Verstraeten G, Valentin C (2003) Simon A, Pollen N, Langendoen E (2006) Influence of two
Gully erosion and environmental change: importance and woody riparian species on critical conditions for stream-
research needs. Catena 50:91133 bank stability: upper Truckee river, California. J Am Water
Pollen N (2007) Temporal and spatial variability in root Resour Assoc 42:99113
reinforcement of streambanks: accounting for soil shear Tosi M (2007) Root tensile strength relationships and their
strength and moisture. Catena 69:197205 slope stability implications of three shrub species in
Pollen N, Simon A (2005) Estimating the mechanical effects of Northern Apennines (Italy). Geomorphology 87:268283
riparian vegetation on stream bank stability using a fiber van Beek LPH, Wint J, Cammeraat LH, Edwards JP (2005)
bundle model. Water Resour Res 41:111 Observation and simulation of root reinforcement on
Reubens B, Poesen J, Danjon F, Geudens G, Muys B (2007) abandoned Mediterranean slopes. Plant Soil 278:5574
The role of fine and coarse roots in shallow slope stability Waldron LJ (1977) The shear resistance or root-permeated
and soil erosion control with a focus on root system homogeneous and stratified soil. Soil Sci Soc Am J
architecture: a review. Trees 21:385402 41:843849
SAS Entreprise Guide 4.1 (2006) SAS enterprise guide 4.1 Waldron LJ, Dakessian S (1982) Effect of grass, legume and
( for Windows. SAS Institute Inc., Cary, NC, tree roots on soil shearing resistance. Soil Sci Soc Am J
USA 46:894899
Sidle RC, Ziegler AD, Negishi JN, Nik AR, Siew R, Weaver JE, Clements FE (1938) Plant ecology. McGraw-Hill,
Turkelboom F (2006) Erosion processes in steep terrain New York
truths, myths, and uncertainties related to forest man- Wu TH, McKinnell WP III, Swanston DN (1979) Strength of
agement in Southeast Asia. For Ecol Manag 224: tree roots and landslides on Prince of Wales Island,
199225 Alaska. Can Geotech J 16:1933