Shallow landslide disposition in burnt European beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) forests.


Bern University of Applied Sciences, Department of Agriculture Forestry, Food Science & Management, Langgasse 85, 3052, Zollikofen, Switzerland. [Email]


Tree roots contribute significantly to soil strength on hillslopes. In the case of wildfires, this effect may abruptly vanish and be lacking for a considerable period of time depending on the resistance and resilience of the forest. Despite its importance, quantitative data on the impact and dynamics of wildfires on slope stabilization is still lacking. We use the study case of the Fagus sylvatica L. to quantify the medium-term evolution of root reinforcement and its effect on slope stability in fire-injured forests. In the study, we upscale root reinforcement using field data for the calibration of the Root Bundle Model and detailed information on forest structure in 244 plots, and calculate the spatio-temporal dynamics of forest protective capacity using a three-dimensional probabilistic slope stability model (slideforNET) for different site types. In unburnt and low-burn forests, the protective capacity was found to remain constant over time. Forests hit by moderate burns continue to provide adequate protection for shallow (depth < 0.5 m) and cohesive soils only, whereas in the case of high severity fires, the protective capacity vanishes for 15 years and an increased shallow landslide probability remains for at least 40 years. These conditions call for appropriate sylvicultural post-fire measures.