Traditional vegetative techniques to control gully development rely mainly on the effects of above ground biomass, whereas little attention has been given to the role of below ground biomass. Yet, in a context where above ground biomass may temporarily or spatially disappear (e.g. due to fire or grazing), roots can play an important role in protecting soil against erosion. Few studies have investigated the impacts of roots of natural vegetation (such as grass) on the resistance of topsoils in concentrated flow erosion zones, although grasses grow in many environments. Therefore, the objective of this study is to investigate the impact of root density and root length density of grass on the erodibility of root-permeated saturated topsoils. Three plots were established on a sandy loam. Their treatments were (1) bare, (2) low density drilled grass and (3) high density drilled grass, simulating different root densities. After one month, topsoil samples were taken and subjected to concentrated flow using a hydraulic flume in the laboratory. Slope, flow discharge, mean velocity, water temperature and sediment concentration were measured. Root density and root length density values were assessed. Relative soil detachment rates and mean flow shear stresses were calculated. The results indicate a negative exponential relation between the relative soil detachment rate and root density as well as root length density, independent of the applied flow shear stresses. However, the best relationship fitting the data is the Hill curve, indicating that relative soil detachment rates decrease to very low values (0.05) with an increase in root density from 0 to 4 kg m(-3) or root length density from 0 to 400 km m(-3). A comparison between the effects of vegetation cover on sheet and rill erosion rates and those of the root area ratio of grass roots on relative soil detachment rates reveals that grass roots are very effective in reducing soil detachment rates. The equations obtained can be used to predict the effect of grass roots on soil erosion rates during concentrated runoff and to evaluate the ability of roots to increase topsoil resistance against erosion by concentrated flow. Calculations of relative erosion rates using the equations from the RUSLE and WEPP models indicate that the observed trend is better predicted with the RUSLE model and the WEPP model for croplands than with the WEPP model for rangelands. (c) 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.