Minimum representative root distribution sampling for calculating slope stability in Pinus radiata D.Don plantations in New Zealand

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Filippo Giadrossich
Massimiliano Schwarz
Michael Marden
Roberto Marrosu
Chris Phillips


root reinforcement; Root Bundle Model; slope stability; shallow landslide


Background: Rainfall-triggered shallow landslides on steep slopes cause significant soil loss and can be hazards for property and people in many parts of the world. In New Zealand’s hill country, they are the dominant erosion process and are responsible for soil loss and subsequent impacts on regional water quality. Use of wide-spaced trees and afforestation with fast growing conifers are the primary land management tools in New Zealand to help control erosion and improve water quality. To decide where to implement erosion controls in the landscape requires determining the most susceptible places to these processes and models that incorporate how trees reinforce soils to understand if, and when, such treatments become effective.

Methods: This paper characterises the mechanical properties of Pinus radiata D.Don roots (the common tree species used for afforestation in New Zealand) by means of field pullout tests and by measuring the root distribution at 360 degrees around trees. The Root Bundle Model (RBM) was used to calculate the root reinforcement. Statistical analysis was carried out to assess the statistical reduction coefficients of root reinforcement that depend on the number of measurements, used in geotechnical analysis to reduce the mean value of a parameter to a so-called characteristic value.

Results: We show that to reach an effective level of root reinforcement, trees of 0.5 m DBH require a density of about 300 trees per hectare. Trees of this size are about 30 years of age across many sites and have generally reached the recommended conditions for clear-fell harvesting. The analysis of variance shows that 4 trees are the minimum number to be excavated to obtain sufficient root information to obtain less than 5% of error with a 95% of probability on the estimation of a design value of root reinforcement in accord with geotechnical standards.

Conclusions: We found that the variability of lateral and basal root reinforcement does not limit the implementation of vegetation in slope stability models for Pinus radiata. We adopt for the first time the concept of a minimum sampling requirement and characteristic value, similarly to what is assumed for the value of effective soil cohesion in geotechnical guidelines for slope stability calculations.

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