Progress in physical geography vol:29 issue:2 pages:189-217
Vegetation controls soil erosion rates significantly. The decrease of water erosion rates with increasing vegetation cover is exponential. This review reveals that the decrease in water erosion rates with increasing root mass is also exponential, according to the equation SEP =e(-bRP) where SEP is a soil erosion parameter (e.g., interrill or rill erosion rates relative to erosion rates of bare topsoils without roots), RP is a root parameter (e.g., root density or root length density) and b is a constant that indicates the effectiveness of the plant roots in reducing soil erosion rates. Whatever rooting parameter is used, for splash erosion b equals zero. For interrill erosion the average b-value is 0.1195 when root density (kg m(-3)) is used as root parameter, and 0.0022 when root length density (km m(-3)) is used. For rill erosion these average b-values are 0.5930 and 0.0460, respectively. The similarity of this equation for root effects with the equation for vegetation cover effects is striking, but it is yet impossible to determine which plant element has the highest impact in reducing soil losses, due to incomparable units. Moreover, all the studies on vegetation cover effects attribute soil loss reduction to the above-ground biomass only, whereas in reality this reduction results from the combined effects of roots and canopy cover. Based on an analysis of available data it can be concluded that for splash and interrill erosion vegetation cover is the most important vegetation parameter, whereas for rill and ephemeral gully erosion plant roots are at least as important as vegetation cover.