Relationships between rock fragment cover and soil hydrological response in a Mediterranean environment


L. M. ZAVALA, Departamento de Cristalografía, Mineralogía y Química Agrícola, Facultad de Química, Universidad de Sevilla, C/Profesor García González, 1, 41012, Sevilla, Spain. Email:


Rock fragments are a key factor for determining erosion rates, particularly in arid and semiarid environments where vegetation cover is very low. However, the effect of rock fragments in non-cultivated bare soils is still not well understood. Currently, there is a need for quantitative information on the effects of rock fragments on hydrological soil processes, in order to improve soil erosion models. The main objective of the present research was to study the influence of rock fragment cover on run-off and interrill soil erosion under simulated rainfall in Mediterranean bare soils in south-western Spain. Thirty-six rainfall simulation experiments were carried out at an intensity of 26.8 mm h−1 over 60 min under three different classes of rock fragment cover (<50%, 50–60% and >60%). Ponding and run-off flow were delayed in soils with high rock fragment cover. In addition, sediment yield and soil erosion rates were higher in soils with a low rock fragment cover. The relationship between soil loss rate and rock fragment cover was described by an exponential function. After this first set of experiments, rock fragments were removed from sites with the highest cover (>60%) and the rainfall simulation experiments were repeated. The steady-state run-off rate and soil loss increased significantly, showing that run-off and soil erosion were partly conditioned by rock fragment cover. These results have significant implications for erosion modelling and soil conservation practices in areas with the same climate and soil characteristics.