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Root Biomechanical Traits in a Montane Mediterranean Forest Watershed: Variations with Species Diversity and Soil Depth

Moresi, Federico Valerio, Maesano, Mauro, Matteucci, Giorgio, Romagnoli, Manuela, Sidle, Roy C., Scarascia Mugnozza, Giuseppe
Forests 2019 v.10 no.4
Ilex aquifolium, Quercus cerris, biomechanics, cohesion, forested watersheds, forests, landscapes, landslides, models, root systems, roots, shrubs, soil depth, species diversity, tensile strength, trees, water content, Italy, Mediterranean region
Plant roots play a key role in stabilizing slopes, particularly in the Mediterranean region, characterized by rough and unstable terrain. However, forest species differ in their stabilizing capacities. The purpose of this study is to fill the gap of knowledge on root biomechanical properties of relevant Mediterranean trees and shrubs in relation to slope stability. Root specimens of typical montane Mediterranean tree and shrub species were sampled in Southern Italy. Root characteristics, such as tensile strength (T<inf>r</inf>) and root area ratio (RAR), were assessed from live roots sampled in trenches, while root cohesion was calculated. Power law functions yielded the best fit for the relationship of T<inf>r</inf> versus root diameter; however, no significant relationship was found between root strength and root moisture content. RAR varied amongst different tree and shrub species. Roots of Quercus cerris L. were the most resistant to breaking under tension, while roots of Ilex aquifolium L. had the highest tensile strength among all shrub species. Results provide quantitative information on the role of root systems of montane Mediterranean forest species in stabilizing soils and will improve modeling of landslide susceptibility to the prevention and mitigation of natural hazards in mountain environments.