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Keywords:

  • erosion;
  • motorway slopes;
  • restoration;
  • soil properties;
  • soil water availability;
  • vegetation

Abstract

In semiarid Mediterranean areas, the widespread environmental impact caused by the construction of motorways, railways, and pipelines has created an increasing need for effective restoration. We examined the influence of slope characteristics on vegetation and water erosion on 71 motorway slopes in a semiarid Mediterranean region. Specifically, we studied the effect of slope angle, type (roadfill vs. roadcut) and aspect (north vs. south) on soil properties, vegetation cover, species richness, floristic composition, and water-caused erosion. Temporal dynamics of soil water content was monitored and related to the soil water potential in order to explain possible differences in vegetation cover between slope types. The main factors influencing vegetation on motorway slopes were the angle, type, and aspect of the slope. Vegetation was almost completely lacking on roadcuts with slopes greater than 45°. On gentler slopes, vegetation cover was 44–78% on roadfills but did not reach 10% on roadcuts, regardless of aspect. The main soil properties affected by the slope type and aspect were the organic matter content, soil available P, and water content. Rill erosion, gully erosion, and mass movement were all significantly higher on roadcuts than roadfills. A total of 308 spontaneous colonizers and seeded species were recorded. The type and aspect of the slope also controlled species composition. The short duration of available water in the soil with respect to soil water potential proved to be a limiting factor to plant colonization on roadcuts and south-facing slopes as well as the low soil fertility in the case of roadcuts. Our results underscore the difficulty of revegetating slopes with angles greater than 45°, where the probability of seeds moving downhill is high. Future efforts should focus on increasing the surface roughness or building terraces at regular intervals in order to reduce slope angle to less than 45° and favor seed trapping and germination. On gentler slopes, adjusting of seed mixes according to dominant species associated with each slope type and aspect should improve considerably the success of roadside revegetation.