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Species Traits as Practical Tools for Ecological Restoration of Marly Eroded Lands



Plant functional traits are increasingly used in restoration ecology because they have the potential to guide restoration practices at a broad scale. This article presents a trait-based multi-criteria framework to evaluate and predict the performance of 17 plant seedlings to improve ecological restoration of marly eroded areas in the French Southern Alps. The suitability of these species to limit soil erosion was assessed by studying both their response to erosive forces and their effect on erosion dynamics. We assumed that species efficiency could be explained and predicted from plant traits and we looked for trait-performance relationships. Our results showed that root slenderness ratio, the percentage of fine roots and root system topology, were the three root morphology traits best describing anchorage strength. Root system characterized by a long and thin tap root and many fine lateral ramifications would be the best to resist concentrated runoff. Species response to burial mainly depended on growth form and morphological flexibility. The abilities of species in reinforcing the soil and reducing erosion rates were negatively correlated to root diameter and positively to the percentage of fine roots. Moreover, root system density and root tensile strength also influenced root reinforcement. Finally, the ability to trap sediment was positively correlated to leaf area and canopy density. Species were then scored and classified in four clusters according to their global performance. This method allows identifying species that possess both response and effect traits related to the goal of preventing erosion during ecological restoration.