Species type controls root strength and influences slope stability in coastal Ecuador

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Eliel Anttila1, Michelle Eileen Wray1, Ellen Knappe2, Tom Ogasawara1, Andrew Tholt2, Brittany Cliffe1 and Jasper Oshun3, (1)University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, United States, (2)UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, United States, (3)Brown University, Providence, RI, United States
Tree roots, particular those of old growth trees, provide significant cohesive strength that can prevent shallow landslides. Little is known about the root strength of trees growing in dry tropical forests. In 1997, Bahía de Caráquez, Ecuador experienced a large landslide, which may have been precipitated by massive deforestation along the Ecuadorian coast. We used a tensile spring apparatus combined with root maps to caclulate the cohesive strength of different native species of trees. Whereas the results show the previously reported power law relationship between root diameter and tensile strength, our data also reveals new contributions. First, we find that trees have far stronger and more abundant roots than neighboring bushes, and thus add far more cohesive strength to the hillslope. Furthermore, there is a wide range of tensile strength among the native trees measured, with algarrobo having the strongest roots, and ceibo gernally being weak rooted. Finally, we use a slope stability model to predict failure conditions considering the strength added to a hillslope if vegetation is predominantly composed of bushes, algarrobo, or ceibo. Our results, which are the first of their kind for the Ecuadorian dry tropical forest, will be used to guide the ongoing native reforestation efforts of Global Student Embassy. Our unique partnership with Global Student Embassy connects our field study to practical land use decisions that will lead to increased slope and decreased human danger along coastal Ecuador’s dry tropical forest.