Although research has explained how plant roots mechanically stabilize soils, in this article we explore how root systems create networks of preferential flow and thus influence water pressures in soils to trigger landslides. Root systems may alter subsurface flow: Hydrological mechanisms that promote lower pore-water pressures in soils are beneficial to slope stability, whereas those increasing pore pressure are adverse. Preferential flow of water occurs in the following types of root channels: (a) channels formed by dead or decaying roots, (b) channels formed by decayed roots that are newly occupied by living roots, and (c) channels formed around live roots. The architectural analysis of root systems improves our understanding of how roots grow initially, develop, die, and interconnect. Conceptual examples and case studies are presented to illustrate how root architecture and diverse traits (e.g., diameter, length, orientation, topology, sinuosity, decay rate) affect the creation of root channels and thus affect preferential flow.
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Vol. 61 • No. 11