Project title: Do root traits affect a plant’s ability to alter soil erosion?
Where based: Lancaster University and Nottingham University
My interest in the outdoors started my academic career at Liverpool John Moores University studying Outdoor Education with Environmental Education. This is where I developed an interest in the causes of flooding. After taking a couple of years out to join the working world, I returned to start my MSc at Bristol University in Water and Environmental Management. My MSc dissertation took me to the Rothamsted research farm in Devon where I started looking at the interaction between soil properties and runoff. Whilst working on my MSc dissertation I found and applied for the project I am now currently working on. The more I learn the more I am intrigued by the complex relationship between plants, water and of course soil.
Sustainable agriculture requires the efficient use of available resources (e.g. water and nutrients), but especially soil retention, particularly of the upper (nutrient-enriched) layers. Water-mediated soil erosion can be minimised by maximizing vegetation cover, but recently more attention has been paid to the role of the root system. Plant roots are a crucial yet under-researched factor for reducing water erosion rates through their ability to alter soil properties such as aggregate stability, hydraulic function and shear strength. This project aims to evaluate the effects of genotypic variation in root architecture (specifically vertical gradients in lateral root proliferation) on soil erosion rates. Should proliferation occur at the soil surface, dense mats of roots may block soil pores thereby limiting infiltration, enhancing runoff and thus erosion. Should proliferation occur at depth, local increases in shear strength may reinforce soils against structural failure at the shear plane. Furthermore, root hair development and exudation of mucilage may improve aggregate stability and decrease erodibility. The magnitude of these effects in mitigating soil erosion requires research on nutrient poor agricultural land or constructed slopes.