Reinforcement of soil by fibrous roots

Kenneth W. Loades, A. Glyn Bengough, M. Fraser Bransby, Paul D. Hallett*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

6 Citations (Scopus)


The capacity of plant roots to mechanically reinforce soil is one of the key processes underlying soil sustainability. Two of the greatest soil disasters in recent history, the Great Dust Bowl in the Midwest of the USA and the rapid degradation of China’s Loess plateau, were due to the depletion of native plants with dense, fibrous, interconnecting networks of plant roots that bound soil. This chapter discusses research advances and challenges in understanding soil reinforcement by fibrous roots. It bridges concepts from soil science, plant biology, geography and geotechnical engineering. The applications of the research include soil sustainability, the restoration of severely degraded soils and the mechanical stabilization of engineered slopes. Most work on soil reinforcement by roots focuses on woody species, with much less research on herbaceous species such as grasses and major crops. Tree roots penetrate deep into soil, thereby potentially bridging and reinforcing shear zones that could cause shallow landslides. This has prompted research interest from geotechnical engineers who have developed numerical models to predict soil reinforcement by tree roots. Concepts from woody species are somewhat transferable to fibrous root systems, although rooting depth and the extent of soil aggregation are different. This chapter considers how the concepts and models can be transferred, including areas where understanding is currently poor.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEnhancing Understanding and Quantification of Soil-Root Growth Interactions
Number of pages32
ISBN (Electronic)9780891183396
ISBN (Print)9780891183389
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


  • Fiber bundle model
  • Fibrous roots
  • Herbaceous plants
  • Lignin
  • Mechanical root impedance
  • Plant cellulose
  • Root area ratio
  • Root biomechanics
  • Silica
  • Soil reinforcement


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