Effects of root dehydration on biomechanical properties of woody roots of Ulex europaeus

David Boldrin, Anthony Leung (Lead / Corresponding author), Anthony Bengough

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Abstract

Aims: Effects of root water status on root tensile strength and Young’s modulus were studied in relation to root reinforcement of slopes. Methods: Biomechanical properties of woody roots, Ulex europaeus, were tested during progressive dehydration and after thirty-day moisture equilibration in soil with contrasting water contents. Root diameter, water content and water loss were recorded and root water potential versus water content relation was investigated. Tensile stresses induced by root contraction upon dehydration were measured. Results: Root tensile strength and Young’s modulus increased abruptly when root water content dropped below 0.5 g g −1. The strength increase was due to root radial and axial contraction induced by root water potential drop. Diameter decrease and strength gain were the largest for thin roots because of the relatively larger evaporative surface per volume of thin roots. Largely negative water potentials in dry soil induced root drying, affecting root biomechanical properties. Conclusion: Root water status is a factor that can cause (inappropriately) high strength values and the large variability reported in literature for thin roots. Therefore, all root diameter classes should have consistent moisture for fair comparison. Testing fully hydrated roots should be the routine protocol, given that slope instability occurs after heavy rainfall.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-369
Number of pages23
JournalPlant and Soil
Volume431
Issue number1-2
Early online date10 Aug 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018

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Keywords

  • Eco-engineering
  • Root dehydration
  • Root shrinkage
  • Root water potential
  • Tensile strength
  • Young’s modulus

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