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The relative importance of different grass components in controlling runoff and erosion on a hillslope under simulated rainfall

Li, Changjia, Pan, Chengzhong
Journal of hydrology 2018 v.558 pp. 90-103
Astragalus laxmannii, Cosmos bipinnatus, Medicago sativa, belowground biomass, canopy, fine roots, forage, grasses, harvesting, leaves, overland flow, planting, rain, rainfall simulation, runoff, sediment yield, soil, soil erosion, stems, topographic slope, vegetation cover, vegetation types
The effects of vegetation cover on overland flow and erosion processes on hillslopes vary with vegetation type and spatial distribution and the different vegetation components, including the above- and below-ground biomass. However, few attempts have been made to quantify how these factors affect erosion processes. Field experimental plots (5 m × 2 m) with a slope of approximately 25° were constructed and simulated rainfall (60 mm hr−1) (Rainfall) and simulated rainfall combined with upslope overland flow (20 L min−1) (Rainfall + Flow) were applied. Three grass species were planted, specifically Astragalus adsurgens (A. adsurgens), Medicago sativa (M. sativa) and Cosmos bipinnatus (C. bipinnatus). To isolate and quantify the relative contributions of the above-ground grass parts (stems, litter cover and leaves) and the roots to reducing surface runoff and erosion, each of the three grass species was subjected to three treatments: intact grass control (IG), no litter or leaves (only the grass stems and roots were reserved) (NLL), and only roots remaining (OR). The results showed that planting grass significantly reduced overland flow rate and velocity and sediment yield, and the mean reductions were 21.8%, 29.1% and 67.1%, respectively. M. sativa performed the best in controlling water and soil losses due to its thick canopy and dense, fine roots. Grasses reduced soil erosion mainly during the early stage of overland flow generation. The above-ground grass parts primarily contributed to reducing overland flow rate and velocity, with mean relative contributions of 64% and 86%, respectively. The roots played a predominant role in reducing soil erosion, with mean contribution of 84%. Due to the impact of upslope inflow, overland flow rate and velocity and sediment yield increased under the Rainfall + Flow conditions. The results suggest that grass species on downslope parts of semi-arid hillslopes performed better in reducing water and soil losses. This study is beneficial for forage selection, allocation and management practices, such as forage harvesting, when implementing restoration strategies to control soil and water losses.