The relationship between Andean vegetation, precipitation and soil erosion

Plants may stabilize slopes, yet rainfall often intensifies soil erosion. Until now, just how these two things interact to form mountain topography was only clear for a few small regions on Earth. In a new study, Professor Todd Ehlers, Dr. Jessica Starke and Dr. Mirjam Schaller of the Geosciences department at the University of Tübingen, Germany, investigated how plants and climate shape topography. They did this in a large study of the 3,500 kilometer long western edge of the Andes Mountains in Peru and Chile. They found that the question of how plants influence the landscape and erosion can have different answers, depending on what area is investigated. Key factors identified are the climate zone and plant cover. In the dry Atacama Desert, for example, sparse vegetation is sufficient to hold the soil in place; while higher erosion rates can be seen in the wetter and more temperate regions where plant cover is denser. The study has been published in the latest edition of the journal Science.

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