Variation in root density along stream banks

J Environ Qual. 2004 Nov-Dec;33(6):2030-9. doi: 10.2134/jeq2004.2030.


While it is recognized that vegetation plays a significant role in stream bank stabilization, the effects are not fully quantified. The study goal was to determine the type and density of vegetation that provides the greatest protection against stream bank erosion by determining the density of roots in stream banks. To quantify the density of roots along alluvial stream banks, 25 field sites in the Appalachian Mountains were sampled. The riparian buffers varied from short turfgrass to mature riparian forests, representing a range of vegetation types. Root length density (RLD) with depth and aboveground vegetation density were measured. The sites were divided into forested and herbaceous groups and differences in root density were evaluated. At the herbaceous sites, very fine roots (diameter < 0.5 mm) were most common and more than 75% of all roots were concentrated in the upper 30 cm of the stream bank. Under forested vegetation, fine roots (0.5 mm < diameter < 2.0 mm) were more common throughout the bank profile, with 55% of all roots in the top 30 cm. In the top 30 cm of the bank, herbaceous sites had significantly greater overall RLD than forested sites (alpha = 0.01). While there were no significant differences in total RLD below 30 cm, forested sites had significantly greater concentrations of fine roots, as compared with herbaceous sites (alpha = 0.01). As research has shown that erosion resistance has a direct relationship with fine root density, forested vegetation may provide better protection against stream bank erosion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Appalachian Region
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Plant Roots / growth & development*
  • Rivers
  • Soil*
  • Trees*


  • Soil