The suitability of using leaf area index to quantify soil loss under vegetation cover
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Soil erosion by water under forest cover is a serious problem in southern China. A comparative study was carried out on the use of leaf area index (LAI) and vegetation fractional coverage (VFC) in quantifying soil loss under vegetation cover. Five types of vegetation with varied LAI and VFC under field conditions were exposed to two rainfall rates (40 mm h−1 and 54 mm h−1) using a portable rainfall simulator. Runoff rate, sediment concentration and soil loss rate were measured at relatively runoff stable state. Significant negative exponential relationship (p < 0.05, R2 = 0.83) and linear relationship (p < 0.05, R2 = 0.84) were obtained between LAI and sediment concentration, while no significant relationship existed between VFC and sediment concentration. The mechanism by which vegetation canopy prevents soil loss was by reducing rainfall kinetic energy and sediment concentration. LAI could better quantify such a role than VFC. However, neither LAI nor VFC could explain runoff rate or soil loss rate. Caution must be taken when using LAI to quantify the role of certain vegetation in soil and water conservation.
KeywordsLeaf area index (LAI) Runoff steady state Sediment concentration Simulated rainfall
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