Tree root research in New Zealand: a retrospective ‘review’ with emphasis on soil reinforcement for soil conservation and wind firmness

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Chris Phillips
Mark Bloomberg
Michael Marden
Suzanne Lambie


tree roots, soil reinforcement, soil conservation, New Zealand, erosion, toppling, wind firmness, tree stability, radiata pine, mānuka, kānuka, poplar


Background: Trees and forests have been used in New Zealand to reduce erosion, particularly from rainfall–triggered landslides, gullying, and earthflows. Most New Zealand tree root research has been conducted during the life of the New Zealand Journal of Forestry Science, with much published in it.

Methods: We undertook a retrospective ‘review’ of New Zealand tree root research focusing on soil reinforcement and its application for erosion control, slope stability assessment, and understanding tree stability in forests. The published and grey literature was searched using common search terms and relevant papers assessed. The international literature was not reviewed but helped provide context for the New Zealand studies.

Results: Results were aggregated into broad topic areas and key findings summarised. Where multiple studies existed for a particular species, results are presented by species. Selected data are presented to enable inter-species comparisons, and the reader is directed to additional data or the original study.

Conclusions: New Zealand tree root research has focused mostly on root description or simple measurements to support applied studies of root structure and function. Nonetheless, such research has made a valuable global contribution in addition to improving the understanding and management of New Zealand’s forests. Studies show that generally, exotic species outperform indigenous species for most empirical root metrics other than root tensile strength. A combination of both lateral and vertical roots provides the best soil reinforcement and contribution to slope stability. Future research should focus on acquiring more field data and improvements in dealing with spatial and temporal variability in model development. Practical tools for land managers to target the right places with the right vegetation (species, amount, density) are a pressing need as changing climate is changing the way we manage natural hazards like landslides, floods and wildfires.

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