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Ecological Engineering 86 (2016) 146–153

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Ecological Engineering
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Slope stability and vegetation: Conceptual and numerical

investigation of mechanical effects
Nomessi Kuma Kokutse a , André Guy Tranquille Temgoua a,∗ , Zanin Kavazović b
INRS, Centre Eau Terre Environnement, 490 Rue de la Couronne, Québec, QC, G1 K 9A9, Canada
Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research, Department of Applied Mathematics and Sciences, UAE

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: This paper is dedicated to numerical analysis of the influence of vegetation on slope’s stability using the
Received 31 August 2015 calculation of the safety factor of different slopes by a classical shear reduction method with the software
Received in revised form 30 October 2015 PLAXIS in 2D. The soil is modelled as an elastic perfectly plastic material. The shear strength of the soil is
Accepted 9 November 2015
also modelled using the Mohr–Coulomb criterion. Slope stability is influenced by vegetation mechanical
Available online 22 November 2015
parameters: plant’s root matrix system and surcharge due to presence of trees. Based on 2D finite element
method, this paper investigates the combined effects of different rectilinear slope geometries, soil types
and vegetation mechanical parameters on the slope’s factor of safety. The effects of the roots are modelled
Soil reinforcement
Root cohesion
by increasing the soil cohesion following a classical Wu model. The additional cohesion depends on the
2D model vegetation type and on the depth from soil surface. The analysis examined reinforcement effects of the
Factor of safety roots’ systems of four idealised types of vegetation growing on three different types of soil composing
Vegetation the slope. The case study was performed on different slope configurations where slope’s height and angle
were allowed to vary significantly. Two key parameters of the root matrix system had been considered
for the finite element analysis: additional cohesion due to the presence of roots and depth of the root
matrix. Moreover, influence of geometrical parameters, height and angle of the slope, on the stability of
different slope configurations had been analysed by computing slope’s factor of safety. Parametric studies
were performed to assess the variation of the factor of safety of a slope in case of different geometrical
configurations combined with several types of vegetation coverage. Results showed that the slope angle
had the greatest impact on variation of factor of safety. Additional cohesion is regarded as the second most
important parameter influencing the factor of safety. These two parameters combined play an important
role in shallow failures of slopes and significantly affect stability of a slope regardless of a soil type
composing the slope. Results of the current study can help practitioners determine if a slope is at risk by
the lack of additional roots cohesion combined with different types of soil and young vegetation. Hence,
the proposed method helps evaluate slope’s vulnerability and could be efficiently used as management
or informative tool for ecological engineers and forest conservative practitioners.
© 2015 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction in mountainous regions. Other geotechnical studies have corre-

lated decrease of apparent cohesion in soil to the loss of roots
Vegetation growing on a slope has traditionally been consid- (Rienstenberg, 1987; Operstein and Frydman, 2000; Van Beek et al.,
ered to have a minor effect on a slope stability. However, in some 2005). Slope stability can be affected by the local soil characteristics
cases, this assumption is not appropriated. Effects of precipitation (Charlafti, 2014) and root traits can change depending on ontogeny
events and deforestation on the slope stability in mountainous and climate (Stokes et al., 2009). In Philippines, widespread defor-
regions are causing concerns in many parts of the world (DeGraff, estation was recognised to be responsible for the catastrophic and
1989). Swanston (1974) as well as Burroughs and Thomas (1977) ‘extraordinary’ landslides which brought tremendous damage and
found that landslides occurrence and slope stability problems killed more than 1600 people in November 2004 (Gaillard et al.,
increase significantly first years after timber harvesting activities 2006). In 2001, timber harvesting in the mountainous regions of
Togo caused landslides during storm events and killed 3 peo-
ple (Kokutse, 2003). It has been demonstrated that after a storm,
∗ Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 4189147835. groundwater flow in shallow layers is not always interconnected
E-mail address: (A.G.T. Temgoua). with the water table during landslides (Hungr et al., 2001; Caine,
0925-8574/© 2015 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
N.K. Kokutse et al. / Ecological Engineering 86 (2016) 146–153 147

mechanism (Wu et al., 1979; Waldron and Dakessian, 1981; Wu

and Sidle, 1995; Genet et al., 2007; Kokutse, 2008). In a particular
case of trees, the tree’s weight is recognised to be one of tree’s
mechanical parameters. Its effect on slope’s stability has been
analysed in the framework of a non-exhaustive list of publications
(Dhakal and Sidle, 2002; Kokutse, 2003, 2008; Pretzsch, 2010).
Vegetation growing on a slope could be of different types: grass,
shrubs, trees or a combination of any two types or all three types
of vegetation. Among the mechanical parameters of vegetation,
mechanical stabilisation due to presence of roots and surcharge
from the weight of trees (Nilaweera and Nutalaya, 1999) are the
ones that are considered most of the time.
The aim of the present study is to quantify effect of the slope’s
geometry as well as mechanical parameters of four idealised types
of vegetation on the stability (factor of safety) of a slope. Hence,
stability of different rectilinear slopes (three different types of soil
were considered) was analysed using 2D finite element calculations
implemented in PLAXIS code. In addition, a simple sensitivity anal-
Fig. 1. Slope model and the geometrical parameters considered for the simulations.
ysis was performed to assess the sensitivity of the factor of safety of
Brief description of the slope angle ˛:
• ˛ +  = 90o . a slope to variations of vegetation. Moreover, mechanical parame-
• When ˛ is small, then the slope is mild. ters for different type of soil involved in the slope stratigraphy were
• When ˛ is large, then the slope is sharp. also analysed.
• A = Slope base length.
• B = Slope length.
Slope base length and Slope length are both variable and function of H and ˛.
2. Material and methods

Finite element method was used to investigate stability of

1980). Most of the time, hydraulic conductivity decreases with the slope under effects of several types of vegetation coverage,
depth and lateral flow proceeds downslope especially for clayey various slope geometries and soil types. Roots’ systems of differ-
soil (Corominas and Moya, 1999). These discoveries have lent con- ent types of vegetation were modelled as additional cohesion in
siderable impetus to the quantification of influence of vegetation Mohr–Coulomb’s law. Weight of trees was also taken into account
in slope stability assessments. and was applied as a uniform surcharge on the slope. In this study,
Research on the effects of plants’ roots on slope stability has we considered two families of parameters that influence the sta-
widely expanded in the last 30 years. Influence that grass, shrubs bility of a slope: parameters related to the slope geometry as well
and trees may have on slope stability is more and more recognised. as mechanical parameters of a slope related to both different vege-
Vegetation–slope interactions are complex and this has hampered tation coverage and depth of their respective root matrix systems.
the efforts to quantify them in stability analysis (Riestenberg and Hence, height of a slope and its angle were retained as slope geom-
Sovonick-Dunford, 1983). Several studies have been carried out in etry parameters whereas additional cohesion due to presence of
different parts of the world by geotechnical engineers, foresters, roots and depth of a root zone were regarded as vegetation mechan-
hydrologists and other professionals in order to understand how ical parameters.
plants can improve slope stability. For instance, Genet et al. (2005,
2007) correlated root tensile resistance of different species grow- 2.1. Description of slope geometry and root reinforcement model
ing on slopes to roots cellulose content. Cano et al. (2002) analysed
the effects of local topoclimate on cut slope restoration success by 2.1.1. Slope geometry
herbaceous plants. By carrying out laboratory shear tests on soil A scheme of 2D slope geometry is defined using two param-
samples reinforced by roots, Operstein and Frydman (2000) have eters: height H of a slope and angle ˛ of a slope (Fig. 1). The
quantified the additional strength in chalky and clayey soils due to slope was assumed rectilinear. In this study, simulations were per-
the presence of roots of some plant species. Other comprehensive formed using several values of slope height H ranging from 5 m
and illustrative results may be found in Wu (1995, 1988). Although to 20 m (H = 5 m, 10 m, 15 m, and 20 m). Furthermore, we exam-
experimental work and field observations have shown that plant ined the influence of different angles ˛ of a slope ranging from 11◦
roots may increase soil shear strength, the need of quantification to 45◦ (˛ = 11◦ , 14◦ , 19◦ , 22◦ , 27◦ , 34◦ , and 45◦ ). Hence, for each
of the reinforcement mechanism lead researchers to build mech- scenario (different value of H or ˛), a different domain with appro-
anistic models (Terzaghi, 1950; Wu et al., 1979; Gray and Ohashi, priate dimensions was built as illustrated in Fig. 1. This domain
1983; Wu et al., 1988). was meshed using an adaptive triangular mesh available in PLAXIS.
In spite of the fact that numerous investigations have been Therefore, during simulations for each scenario, the density of
carried out to understand vegetation–slope interactions, unfor- materials was kept constant.
tunately, few consideration is given to them for geotechnical
engineering applications, such as design and stability analysis of 2.2. Root reinforcement model: additional cohesion
rooted embankments. In the literature, most studies related to
slope stability purposes are focusing either on different ways to Wu et al. (1979) considered contribution of roots in the shear
assess slope stability (Griffith and Lane, 1999; Baudin et al., 2000; resistance of a soil layer as additional cohesion of the soil. They
Xie et al., 2004; Kokutse et al., 2006), either on slope stabilisation proposed to express increase in the soil shear strength, CR , due to
using mechanical mechanisms such as pins (Sommers et al., 2000). roots by the following relationship:
It is known that roots provide reinforcement effect to soil through
CR = tR (cos  tan ˚ + sin ) (1)
their tensile resistance and frictional properties (Wu et al., 1979;
Waldron, 1977). Different types of root reinforcement models where, tR is the average tensile strength of roots per unit area of
have been built to better understand slope soil reinforcement soil,  is the angle of shear rotation and ˚’ is the soil friction angle.
148 N.K. Kokutse et al. / Ecological Engineering 86 (2016) 146–153

Fig. 2. Values of root additional cohesion (CR ) considered to simulate presence of vegetation roots in various soil layers. For each type of vegetation, additional cohesion was
defined as a piecewise function whose value remained constant in a given sub-layer of the soil. The model expressing variation of CR as a function of depth (ZR ) is based on
two main principles: (1) roots could extend beyond the maximum depth of the root zone and larger distance from the stem and (2) roots’ density decreased from the soil
surface to the maximum depth of the root zone.

Table 1
Mechanical properties of different types of soil considered for the simulations.

Mechanical properties Soil type

Clay Sand Silty-sand

Dry density  d [kN m ] 16 17 17
Young modulus E [kPa] 10,000 13,000 11,500
Poisson ratio  [dimensionless] 0.35 0.3 0.25
Shear modulus G [kPa] 3704 5000 4600
Internal angle of friction  [◦ ] 20 30 25
Cohesion C [kPa] 2 0.001 2

This model considered plants roots as additional cohesion CR in the

soil matrix (Wu et al., 1979).
In the current study, we consider five different types of veg-
etation coverage: none (soil with no vegetation), grass (turf
vegetation), shrubs, young forest and mature forest. To be more Fig. 3. Schema of the slope. Slope with soil sub-layers (7 top layers formed the
realistic, we furthermore consider additional cohesion as a func- rooted zone) considered for the simulation of roots system’s additional cohesion.
tion of soil depth measured from the surface (Fig. 2). Hence, another The vegetation surcharge is considered as a uniformly distributed force W. Boundary
conditions are indicated by the green symbols. (For interpretation of the references
vegetation-dependant parameter was introduced in our study: the
to color in this figure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of this article.)
depth of a root zone, denoted by ZR . As a consequence, different
respective values of additional cohesion (as a function of ZR ) were
obtained for each vegetation coverage to appropriately simulate indicating failure (soil slide) (Griffith and Lane, 1999; Dawson et al.,
the presence of roots in different soil layers composing the slope 2000).
(Fig. 2).
2.4. Mechanical properties of soil

2.3. Finite element model and stability analysis Mechanical behaviour of soil was assumed to be of elasto-plastic
nature with Mohr–Coulomb failure criterion. Three soil types were
In the current study, a 2D slope geometry was considered (Fig. 1) considered for the simulations: clay, sand and silty-sand. Their
and its mesh consisted of triangular elements. Input data of the mechanical properties are presented in Table 1.
model were derived from Kokutse (2003), Pretzsch et al. (2014),
Pretzsch (2010) and Pretzsch et al. (2002). Hence, a basic statis- 2.5. Root additional cohesion
tical analysis of collected data related to roots’ distribution was
performed. Thus, only the data that satisfied a confidence interval Four active vegetation types were considered in this study. The
of 95% were used as input data for the current model. The 2D dis- influence of their respective root systems was modelled by using
placement field was discretised by a quadratic P2 finite element appropriate corresponding values of additional cohesion CR dis-
(6-noded triangular elements). A finite element code for soil and tributed through different soil layers as a function of depth ZR of the
rock analysis called PLAXIS was used for meshing, mechanical cal- root zone of the slope (Fig. 2). In order to incorporate root’s addi-
culations and stability analysis. A new stability analysis method tional cohesion and its variation with depth in the numerical model,
was implemented in PLAXIS software. This new stability analysis a layer of 2 m in depth was considered and divided into 7 sub-layers
method consisted of successively reducing soil shearing resistance (0–0.25 m, 0.25–0.5 m, 0.5–0.75 m, 0.75–1 m, 1–1.50 m, 1.5–2 m,
parameters (cohesion, internal angle of friction) while keeping the and 2 m–bedrock) as illustrated in Fig. 3. Thereafter, soil cohesion
gravity load constant. In this study, the quantity “factor of safety” in each layer was modified accordingly by adding assumed corre-
was the parameter which corresponds to a large jump in a nodal sponding values of root additional cohesion CR . This process was
displacement computed at a given node close to the soil surface respectively applied for each of the four different vegetation types.
N.K. Kokutse et al. / Ecological Engineering 86 (2016) 146–153 149

2.6. Boundary conditions

For each slope model, similar boundary conditions were defined.

They were applied in order to simulate soil stability as well as sur-
roundings. Boundary conditions consisted of applying kinematic
conditions on lateral and underside edges of the slope (Fig. 3).
Underside edge was blocked, i.e., neither horizontal nor vertical
displacement was allowed (Fig. 3). On lateral edges, only horizontal
displacements were blocked whereas vertical displacements were
allowed. Moreover, boundaries were placed far enough to avoid
their influence on the results.
Fig. 4. Relative increase of the factor of safety (FS) of the slope due to roots additional
2.7. Loads cohesion. Results represent the mean value of the factor of safety increase (expressed
in %) together with the standard deviation bars. For each type of vegetation coverage
considered in the study, the mean and the standard deviation were computed by
A constant gravity load was applied in order to generate geo- aggregating the results obtained for all slope angles, heights and soil types.
static stress. Apart from the gravity load, a surcharge W due to
the presence of trees was also modelled by using a uniformly dis-
of FS was estimated in the case of young forest whereas an increase
tributed force which was applied on slope’s surface (Fig. 3). The
of 18.7% of FS was associated to mature forest (Fig. 4).
values of W that we considered were 0 for bare soil, grass and
shrubs, whereas the value of 600 Pa was associated with young
trees and mature forest. The value of 600 Pa corresponds to the 3.2. Effects of slope geometry parameters on the factor of safety of
mean value of the pressure exerted on the soil by a plantation the reinforced soil
of 350 trees/ha of maritime pine. In this paper loads values were
derived from O’Loughlin (1974), Beinsteiner (1981), Nilaweera and Regardless of soil type (clay, sand and silty-sand) and slope’s
Nutalaya (1999) and Medicus (2009). height H, regression analysis showed that there was an increase of
the factor of safety probably due to the presence of roots. This can
be seen on Fig. 5 where all vegetation types and all types of soil
2.8. Factor of safety
were aggregated whereas, for each value of the angle, the results
corresponding to different values of the slope heights H are pre-
The factor of safety (FS) was determined based on strength
sented. Indeed, Fig. 5 presents mean values of FSR (factor of safety
reduction technique which consists to decrease the shear strength
influenced by the presence of roots) as a function of the slope angle
of the soil matrix until failure occurs (Matsui and San, 1992;
˛ for different slope heights H. An improvement of the slope’s sta-
Dawson et al., 2000; Rocscience Inc., 2001). With this method, the
bility, with decreasing slope angle ˛, is easily perceptible (Fig. 5).
criterion to identify failure in the soil matrix is the big jump in the
Mild or moderate slope (smaller inclination) is more stable than
nodal displacement at a chosen point close to the slope’s surface.
a sharp (peaked) slope. So, as suggested by the results in Fig. 5, a
This procedure is implemented in PLAXIS software and was auto-
mild slope angle ˛ improves stability of a slope (Kokutse, 2003;
matically applied to analyse slopes stability in the present study1 .
Chok et al., 2004; Kokutse et al., 2006).

2.9. Parametric analysis 3.3. Threshold of the slope angle for the effectiveness of root
The parametric analysis of five parameters (one at a time) was
considered, namely: height H of a slope, angle ˛ of a slope, roots’ Diagrams of mean values of the factor of safety (slope with addi-
additional cohesion in the first (CR1 ) and the second (CR2 ) top sub- tional cohesion) presented in Fig. 6 clearly suggest a non linear
layers (0–0.25 m and 0.25–0.50 m, respectively; see Fig. 3), and relationship between the factor of safety FSR and the slope angle
surcharge W due to the presence of trees. ˛. This behaviour is very similar to the one observed on Fig. 5. One

3. Results

3.1. Influence of roots’ additional cohesion on the factor of safety

as a function of different types of vegetation

The root system was characterised by two major parameters:

additional root cohesion (CR ) and depth of the root zone (ZR ) (Fig. 2).
Fig. 4 clearly shows that the factor of safety (FS) of the slope
exhibited a significant increase from the slope covered by grass veg-
etation to the forested slope. Indeed, the stability of a non reinforced
slope is significantly improved when plants’ root additional cohe-
sion was taken into account. For grass (ZR = 0.25 m, CR1 = 2 kPa) and
shrubs (ZR = 1 m, CR1 = 2 kPa and CR2 = 1 kPa) (see Fig. 2) for instance,
FS increased respectively by 7.1% and 13.6% (Fig. 4). The increase
appeared to be more significant with a deeper root zone and higher
Fig. 5. Mean values of FSR as function of slope angle for various slope heights H.
apparent or additional root cohesion. Hence, an increase of 17.1% Mean values of FSR (factor of safety influenced by the presence of roots) decreased
significantly with increasing slope angle ˛ for all vegetation types and all heights H of
the slope. Note that the data for all vegetation types and all types of soil were aggre-
gated whereas, for each value of the angle, we present the results corresponding to
1 different values of the slope heights H.
150 N.K. Kokutse et al. / Ecological Engineering 86 (2016) 146–153

Fig. 6. Mean values of FSR as function of slope angle for various types of soil.
As in Fig. 5, mean values of FSR decreased with increasing slope angle ˛. For each
value of the angle of the slope, we present the results corresponding to different
types of soil. In each case, data corresponding to all vegetation types (grass, shrubs, Fig. 8. Relative increase of slope’s factor of safety (FSR ) as a function of slope angle.
young forest and mature forest) and slope heights were aggregated. For each value of slope angle ˛, a mean value of the results for all heights is presented
for each soil type while considering trees (young and mature vegetation) surcharge.

Table 2 Table 3
Threshold values (˛lim ) of the slope angle. ˛lim is the slope angle up to which rein- Influence of the main vegetation parameters affecting the slope’s safety factor.
forcement effects of roots were efficient. For each type of soil, the results represent Data in the column of “soil type” represent the increase (in %) of the safety factor
mean values (and standard deviation) for the angles and the corresponding values of FS. Results represent mean values aggregated for different vegetation types, slope
the safety factor. These mean values were aggregated for different vegetation types angles and heights.
and heights.
Parameters Soil type
Soil type ˛lim [◦ ] FSR
Clay (%) Sand (%) Silty-sand (%)
Clay 29.9 ± 1.29 1.12 ± 0.07
CR1 14 13 13
Sand 41.03 ± 2.17 1.27 ± 0.09
CR2 6 7 4
Silty-sand 31.5 ± 2.43 1.19 ± 0.07
W −1 1 −1

3.4. Effects of trees’ surcharge on the stability of the slope

While comparing the factor of safety due to only additional

cohesion (FSR ) and the factor of safety due to the combined effects
of additional cohesion and vegetation surcharge (FSRW ), relative
increase ε of the factor of safety FSR was calculated and found to
be very low (|ε| < 1%) (see Fig. 8). Thus, surcharge should have a
minor influence on the stability. Despite that evidence, the sign
(positive or negative) of relative increase ε pointed up that one of
the important aspects of the effects of the pressure exerted on the
slope by trees was the variation of the sign of ε (Fig. 8). Indeed,
one would naturally expect the presence of the trees to be bene-
ficial to the stability of the slope. However, we observed that the
sign of the relative increase of the factor of safety was positive for
Fig. 7. Mean values of FSR as a function of slope heights for different slope angles.All
the slope angles ˛ ranging from 11◦ until the slope angle reached a
vegetation types (grass, shrubs, young forest and mature forest) and types of soil
were aggregated whereas, for each value of H, we present the results corresponding critical value ˛0 , which depended on the type of soil. For instance,
to different slope angles. ˛0 ∈ [18◦ , 22◦ ] for clay, ˛0 ∈ [27◦ , 34◦ ] for sand and ˛0 ∈ [22◦ , 27◦ ]
for silty-sand (Fig. 8). As the slope angle ˛ exceeded ˛0 , the sign of
ε became negative and remained negative for the higher values of
˛. Therefore, each soil type has a critical value ˛0 of the slope angle
after which the presence of the trees (because of the trees’ sur-
can also see that there is a threshold ˛lim for the slope angle ˛:
charge weight) becomes adverse to stability of the slope. Another
when ˛ > ˛lim , the factor of safety is smaller than 1 (FSR < 1). In
interesting observation was made when the mean values of the crit-
other words, the reinforcing effect of plants’ roots was sufficient
ical slope angle ˛0 were computed (angle from which the sign of ε
to ensure stability (FSR > 1) of the slope when ˛ < ˛lim . The thresh-
changed). Indeed, for each type of soil, that value was very similar
old appeared to depend on the soil type (Table 2). Moreover, the
to the value of soil angle of internal friction (Fig. 8 and Table 1).
limit value of the slope angle for clay was relatively higher than
those for sandy and silty-sand soils (Table 2). Clay seems to require
milder slopes. 3.5. Parametric analysis
When all types of vegetation were considered together, regres-
sion analysis showed that, contrarily to the angle, relationship On the basis of the factor of safety obtained from the finite ele-
between of the factor of safety FSR and slope’s height H was linear ment calculations, parametric studies were carried out and showed
(Fig. 7). A negative slope of the regression lines (−0.02) put forward that variation of FS was mainly depended on the slope angle ˛,
that an increase of height would decreased the factor of safety. the slope height H and additional cohesions in the first two lay-
Therefore, increase of height is expected to have a destabilising ers of the soil. For geometrical parameters, increase of height H
effect on the slope. induced instability of the slope (coefficient Ai < 0 for H in Table 3).
N.K. Kokutse et al. / Ecological Engineering 86 (2016) 146–153 151

Nevertheless, a decrease in the slope angle ˛ led to a significant showed that hillslope was stable up to a certain value of the angle
increase of the factor of safety FS. (Fig. 5). Using a curve fitting, we established a parabolic relation-
Table 3 illustrates the effect of an increase of 1% of vegetation ship (FSR = 0.0023˛2 − 0.174˛ + 3.83) between the factor of safety
parameters (additional cohesion and surcharge due to trees) on the and the slope angle with a strong correlation (R2 = 0.93). Results
factor of safety of a slope. It was observed that, among the vegeta- presented in Fig. 5 suggest that the hillslope stability is strongly
tion parameters, the root additional cohesion in all soil layers lead influenced by the slope angle. On the other hand, Fig. 7 shows that
to the largest increase in factor of safety. Moreover, among the val- the relationship between the slope height H and the factor of safety
ues of additional cohesion in the two top layers, the first one (CR1 ) is linear (FSR = −0.02H + b) with a strong correlation (R2 = 0.91). One
was the most influential with, on average, around 13% increase can notice (Fig. 7) that the growth rate is negative and low (−0.02).
in terms of stability improvement, whereas CR2 contributed for Hence, for all slope angles, the safety factor slightly decreased as
5.6% average increase in stability (Table 3). The third mechanical the slope height increased. Moreover, values of the constant terms
parameter related to the vegetation in this study was a surcharge of b were different for each value of the slope angle ˛: b = 1.6 for 27◦ ,
trees, W. It appeared to be the less influential vegetation parameter b = 1.78 for 22◦ , b = 2.21 for 19◦ , b = 2.6 for 14◦ and b = 3.14 for 11◦ .
with a contribution of 1% (in absolute terms) towards the stability Therefore, height had a minor adverse effect on the stability of the
(Table 3). Nevertheless, its sign (positive for sandy soil and nega- hillslope. Thus, the slope angle ˛ appeared to be the most important
tive for the others) indicated that its influence on the factor of safety geometrical parameter.
was in fact dependent on soil type (Table 3 and Fig. 8). Influence of An important observation (Fig. 6) related to the slope angle ˛
trees surcharge could have adverse effect on the stability of a slope is the threshold ˛lim (around 40◦ for sand, and 30◦ for clay and
in the case of clay and silty-sand soil. In summary, a decrease in the silty-sand; see Table 2) up to which the stability of a hillslope
slope angle ˛ and the slope height H led to an increase of the fac- could be significantly improved (˛ < ˛lim ) by plants’ roots system.
tor of safety. Concurrently, the presence of vegetation root systems Indeed, Fig. 6 suggests that plants’ roots could not systematically
(accompanied by an increase in additional cohesion of the soil) had improve the slope stability. Hence, for some steep slope configu-
in general a beneficial effect and improved stability. rations (˛ > ˛lim ), the factor of safety remained lower than 1 for all
A more detailed sensitivity study on the influence of different soil types regardless of the type of vegetation coverage. Alterna-
vegetation parameters on the factor of safety will be conducted and tively, when the slope angle is lower than a threshold (˛ < ˛lim ),
presented in a subsequent publication. the stability of a slope is greatly improved (FS > 1), especially for
low values of ˛ (Fig. 6). Furthermore, when FS is above 1, one can
observe, for each value of the slope angle in Fig. 6, non negligible
4. Discussion
differences in the FS values related to different soil types. In cases
in which the slope angle ˛ is greater than the threshold, one could
4.1. Global analysis of variation of the factor of safety
think about alternative means to ensure the hillslope stability, both
by mechanical mechanisms (geotextiles and nails) and adequate
A global analysis of variation of the factor of safety showed its
vegetation roots system. Another way to improve stability could
relative increase (Fig. 4) due to the presence of roots in the soil.
be to reduce declivity of the hillslope until threshold value could
For the same geometric configuration, hillslopes that were initially
be eventually reached before using ecoengineering techniques for
unsafe (FS < 1) without roots in soil, became safe (FS > 1) mainly
slope reinforcement.
due to roots reinforcement effects. The finite element analysis of
a non-reinforced hillslopes showed that the failure mechanism is
a shallow planar one (planar failure). This mechanism of failure is
4.3. Trees’ weight and slope stability: role of soil internal angle of
prevented when a slope is uniformly reinforced by plants’ roots.
As apparent root cohesion and depth of the root zone increase, the
critical slip surface shifts deeper below the ground surface. In the
During simulations, forest (young and mature trees) vege-
case where critical slip surface is beyond the extent of the root zone,
tation’s surcharge was modelled with a low value of pressure
increase of the root density for additional cohesion of soil does not
(0.6 kPa). This value was measured in situ on a slope populated
seem to be helpful for the stability of the hillslope as the factor of
by young trees. As the results presented in Fig. 8 suggest, effects
safety does not increase significantly. Since the critical slip surface
of the vegetation’s surcharge on the factor of safety seemed to
was not intercepted by roots (case of deep-seated slip surfaces),
be negligible (relative increase in absolute value |ε| ≤ 1%). This
increase of the root system for additional cohesion did not lead
could be mainly explained by the consideration of the total normal
automatically to an increase of the factor of safety. For some slopes
stress (pressure exerted by a column of soil above this point) at a
whose critical slip surfaces are crossed by root systems, the finite
given point of the discretised domain which increased very slightly
element analysis showed that an insufficient increase of additional
because of the additional pressure. Nevertheless, analysis of rela-
root cohesion (grass for instance) could not prevent slope from any
tive increase’s sign brought out a major remark: influence of trees’
failure. Similar failure mechanisms could be observed for nailed
surcharge could in some cases be advantageous yet, in other cases,
reinforced slopes in geotechnical engineering applications. There-
adverse to the stability of a hillslope (Fig. 8). This result agreed with
fore, in order to ensure an improvement of stability of a slope using
the assumptions of Greenway (1987) and the work of Dhakal and
vegetation, not only apparent cohesion should be adequate, but
Sidle (2002). Furthermore, Fig. 8 reveals that the adverse impact
also root system must extend beyond the critical slip surface. Sim-
of vegetation’s surcharge on slope’s stability depends on the type
ilar results were found by Kokutse (2003), Chok et al. (2004) and
of soil composing the slope as well as slope’s angle. It should be
Kokutse et al. (2006).
noticed that beneficial aspect of surcharge induced by trees on the
hillslope stability depended only on two parameters: slope angle
4.2. Influence of slope’s geometry on the stability of the reinforced ˛ and soil internal angle of friction ˚. We found that the sur-
hillslope charge was adverse to slope stability when slope’s angle ˛ was
greater than internal angle of friction ˚ (Fig. 8 and Table 1). This
Analysis showed that geometry parameters (angle and height could be explained by the increase of normal stress, a component
of a slope) had a significant influence on the factor of safety of shear stress in Mohr–Coulomb’s failure criterion (Godwin and
(Fig. 5 and Fig. 7). For the slope angle ˛, increase of its value Spoor, 1977).
152 N.K. Kokutse et al. / Ecological Engineering 86 (2016) 146–153

Despite relatively low influence of trees’ surcharge, some quali- were modelled as additional cohesion of the soil and were dis-
tative guidelines could nevertheless be proposed regarding suitable tributed over a depth of a root zone for each vegetation coverage
woody species choices as well as the number of trees to be planted type. Weight of trees was also taken into account and was applied as
per unit surface hectare in the perspective of reforestation of unsta- a uniform surcharge on the slope. Stability of the slope was analysed
ble hillslopes: by computing slope’s factor of safety in the case of each type of veg-
etation coverage on different slope configurations (various slope
• If the slope angle ˛ is lower than soil internal angle of friction angles and heights). Results showed that the slope angle had the
˚, mature forest surcharge could be beneficial for stability of the greatest impact on variation of factor of safety. Additional cohesion
slope. In this case, the chosen wood species is not expected to is regarded as the second most important parameter influencing the
have any destabilizing mechanical effects on the slope. factor of safety. These two parameters combined play an important
• In all other cases, wood species should be chosen in such a role in shallow failures of slopes and significantly affect stability of
way that the plantation density has negligible effects on initi- a slope. On the basis of this numerical study, some major aspects
ation of failure surface. Results on this aspect of vegetation and should be noticed and general guidelines could be outlined:
slope interactions should be considered with caution since more
numerical and in situ investigations should be conducted. It is • Among vegetation mechanical parameters, root additional cohe-
important to notify the scarcity of such studies in the literature. sion is the most predominant parameter.
Only few authors, such as Wu (1995), expressed points of view • Additional cohesion in the first soil layer is more important for
on this aspect of slope–vegetation interactions. These observa- stability improvement than additional cohesion in the second
tions are in accordance with our findings stipulating that mature layer.
trees’ surcharge could, in very specific conditions of a slope angle, • Mature trees surcharge can be beneficial to the slope stability
be beneficial to the stability of a slope and adverse to it in other when the slope angle is lower than soil internal angle of friction.
conditions. Otherwise, the surcharge is adverse to the stability of a slope.
• Slope angle is the most influential among all parameters. High
4.4. General comments on effects of parameters on the slope values of the slope angle can sometimes inhibit the positive
stability effects that roots could have on the stability and induce the slope
to remain unstable. This occurs when the slope angle ˛ is greater
Geometry, especially the slope angle, played the most influen- than the limit value ˛lim for a given type of soil. It could roughly
tial role on stability of a slope. Curve fitted on the simulation results be suggested to use vegetation only when angle ˛ is smaller than
relating the slope stability to the slope angle was parabolic (Fig. 5) 40◦ for sandy soil and 30◦ for clayey or silty-sandy soils. However,
and exhibited significant variations of the factor of safety. On the these guidelines must be taken with caution because of some
other hand, the relationship between the slope stability and the idealisation in the 2D model used in this study.
height of a slope (for all slope angles) resulted in linear curves
(Fig. 7) showing minor variations in the slope factor of safety. Thus,
In the current study, as a first approach, a landslide problem is
slope angle is identified as a major parameter influencing the slope
investigated by idealistic 2D model which is used for finite ele-
stability. This parameter should thus be well investigated and con-
ment numerical simulations. For a future work, our intent is to
trolled when using plants to improve the slope stability. Beneficial
use a more realistic 3D model to better understand how differ-
influence of additional cohesion on the factor of safety highlighted
ent parameters eventually interact to improve the stability of a
that plants improved the slope stability (Fig. 4). The current study
slope. It should be possible to pursue this study by building more
is in accordance with previous studies which pointed out, even
efficient reinforced soil model which will incorporate more param-
thought based on different types of experimental or theoretical
eters. Another item that would require additional attention is the
results, the ability of vegetation roots to improve stability of slopes
surcharge due to the presence of trees. At this stage, this parameter
(Abe and Ziemer, 1991; Operstein and Frydman, 2000; Genet et al.,
seems to have a negligible effect probably because of a low value
2007). Moreover, the results presented in our study unveiled the
of pressure used to model both immature and mature forests. In
contribution of the two top (first and second) soil layers in the
further studies, it would be suitable to assume greater values for
stability of the slope (Table 3). It was also observed that the most
this component, especially in the case of a mature forest. Ideally,
superficial soil layer had the greatest influence on the stability of
additional appropriate data should be collected in situ (by mapping
the slope (Table 3). This is mainly due to the fact that landslides
a forest for example or using remote sensing) to have a more real-
were shallow seated ones. Other areas of the slope indicated a low
istic model of surcharge on the slope. These aspects will be tackled
to moderate risk of landslides. This informative result can help eco-
and analysed in a subsequent paper. Coupling the current model
logical engineers and practitioners to provide a vulnerability or risk
with hydrogeological model to consider interconnected physical
map that can also be used as a friendly decision-making tool.
processes where applicable may improve the accuracy of the model.
Despite the inherent limitations of the model, results of the current
5. Conclusion study can help practitioners determine if a slope is at risk by the lack
of additional roots cohesion combined with different types of soil
In this study, we used 2D finite element method to investigate and young vegetation. Hence, the proposed method helps evaluate
the combined effects of slope geometry (slope’s height and angle of slope’s vulnerability and could be efficiently used as management
a slope) and vegetation mechanical parameters (additional cohe- or informative tool for ecological engineers and forest conservative
sion due to presence of roots and the depth of the root matrix practitioners.
system as well as surcharge due to presence of trees) on the slope’s
factor of safety. Our objective was to quantify effects of the slope
geometry and mechanical parameters of vegetation on the stability Acknowledgements
of a slope. Finite element analysis examined stability of different
rectilinear slopes rotating four types of vegetation coverage on The authors wish to kindly acknowledge Dr Neal Harries for
the slopes having various slope angles and heights. Reinforcement assistance during PLAXIS modelling and his useful comments for
effects of the roots’ systems of four types of vegetation coverage FE slope stability analysis.
N.K. Kokutse et al. / Ecological Engineering 86 (2016) 146–153 153

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