Fine roots benefit soil physical properties key to mitigate soil detachment capacity following the restoration of eroded land

  • Haoxin Hao
  • Hanyue Di
  • Xiong Jiao
  • Junguang Wang
  • Zhonglu GuoEmail author
  • Zhihua Shi
Regular Article


Background and aims

Trait-based approaches are increasingly used to improve ecological restoration in degraded ecosystems. The aim of this study was to evaluate how vegetation controls soil detachment capacity (Dc) by concentrated flow based on the linkages between root traits and soil physics.


We selected 60 plots along a land degradation gradient caused by long-term water erosion in a small catchment, central China. These plots consisted of woodlands, scrublands, grasslands and bare lands. And soil physical properties, root traits and Dc were measured in each plot.


Fine roots (0.2 mm < diameter < 2 mm) accounted for 51–93% of total root length in topsoil. Roots explained most of the soil variations in noncapillary porosity, aggregate stability and shear strength. Furthermore, our prediction model (R2 = 0.88, NSE = 0.85) showed that fine roots length density and soil shear strength were the primary factors reducing Dc.


Vegetation restoration improves multiple soil physical properties key to mitigating Dc, and the root functional traits play a substantial role in this relationship. These findings could provide the basis for soil conservation, and for expanding the pool of species of interest, which can be used to provide erosion mitigation services in degraded ecosystems.


Root trait Concentrated flow Soil detachment capacity Vegetation restoration Land degradation Soil physics 



This work was financially supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (41671273) and National Key Research and Development Program of China (2017YFC0505405). We thank Liang Cheng, Jiahui Qin and Danni Cao for their assistance in field and lab work. We are also grateful to three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on prior versions of this article.

Supplementary material

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Figure S1 (DOCX 176 kb)
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Table S1 (DOCX 14 kb)
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Table S2 (DOCX 15 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Arable Land Conservation (Middle and Lower Reaches of Yangtze River) of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural AffairsWuhanPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.College of Resources and EnvironmentHuazhong Agricultural UniversityWuhanPeople’s Republic of China

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