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Effects of slope angle and aspect on plant cover and species richness in a humid Mediterranean badland

Estela Nadal-Romero, Kristien Petrlic, Els Verachtert, Esther Bochet, Jean Poesen

Soil erosion is one of the most severe land degradation processes in the Mediterranean region. Although badlands occupy a relatively small fraction of the Mediterranean area, their erosion rates are very high. Many studies have investigated to what extent vegetation controls soil erosion rates. This study, however, deals with the impact of erosion on vegetation establishment. In semi-arid badlands of the Mediterranean, soil water availability constitutes the main limiting factor for vegetation development. As a consequence, south-facing slopes are typically less vegetated due to a very large water stress. However, these findings do not necessarily apply to humid badlands. The main objective of this paper is to determine the topographic thresholds for plant colonization in relation to slope aspect and to assess the spatial patterns of vegetation cover and species richness. We surveyed 179 plots on highly eroded badland slopes in the Central Pyrenees. We defined four aspect classes subdivided into slope angle classes. Colonization success was expressed in terms of vegetation cover and species richness. Slope angle thresholds for plant colonization were identified for each slope aspect class by means of binary logistic regressions.
The results show that a critical slope angle exists below which plants colonize the badland slopes. Below this critical slope angle, plant cover and species richness increase with a decreasing slope angle. The largest critical slope angles in humid badlands are observed on south-facing slopes, which contrasts with the results obtained in semi-arid badlands. North-facing slopes however are characterized by a reduced overall vegetation cover and species richness, and lower topographic threshold values. The possible underlying processes responsible for this slope-aspect discrepancy in vegetation characteristics are discussed in terms of environmental variables that control regolith development, weathering and erosion processes. Moreover, possible restoration strategies through the use of vegetation in highly degraded environments are highlighted.


Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, Vol. 39, No. 13. (October 2014), pp. 1705-1716, https://doi.org/10.1002/esp.3549 
Key: INRMM:14463015

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