Soil loss caused by wind erosion is a widespread phenomenon in the Sahelian zone of West Africa. According to Sahelian farmers, scattered vegetation standing in amongst the crop has the potential for a wind erosion control strategy. This study was conducted to study the effect of single vegetation elements on the pattern of average wind speed and sediment transport. This was done by two experiments that were carried out during the rainy seasons of 2002 and 2003 in north Burkina Faso, West Africa. Wind speeds were measured using three sonic anemometers, at a sampling frequency of 16 Hz. Sediment transport was determined by calculating the mass fluxes from 17 MWAC catchers. In this study, a shrub was defined as a vegetation element with branches until ground and a tree as a vegetation element with a distinctive trunk below a canopy.
Behind shrubs wind speed near the soil surface was reduced up to approximately seven times the height of the shrub. The observed reduction in wind speed in the area where wind speed was reduced was 15 per cent on average. At the sides of the shrub, wind speed was increased, by on average 6 per cent. As the area of increase in wind speed is one-third of the area of decrease in wind speed, the net effect of a shrub is a reduction in wind speed. A similar pattern was visible for the pattern of sediment transport around a shrub. Downwind of a shrub, sediment transport was diminished up to seven times the height of the shrub. Probably most of this material was trapped by the shrub. Trees showed a local increase of wind around the trunk, which is expected to relate to an increase in sediment transport around the trunk. Mass flux measurements of sediment transport were not made, but visual observations in the field substantiate this. Behind the canopy of a tree, a tree acts similarly to a shrub regarding its effects on average wind speed, but as a tree is generally a larger obstacle than a shrub the extent of this effect is larger than for shrubs. Thus, whereas shrubs are more effective than trees regarding their direct effect on soil loss by trapping sand particles near the soil surface, trees are more effective in affecting soil loss indirectly by reducing the wind speed downwind more effectively than shrubs. Therefore, to reduce soil loss in an area, the presence of both trees and shrubs is crucial. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.