Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Periodic Report Summary 1 - BIOEPIC SLOPE (Use of BioEngineered Plant-Integrated Cover (BioEPIC) to Enhance Slope Performance)

BioEPIC Slope is a 4-year project funded by Marie Curie Actions CIG that assists the fellow (Dr Anthony Leung) to integrate his research career development in Europe by working with the host institute, the University of Dundee, UK, to explore important, yet unrevealed, aspects of soil bioengineering techniques for slope stabilisation. The project focuses on the hydrological effects of vegetation on soil hydrology and stability, an aspect that has received only limited attention when compared to mechanical effects of root reinforcement.

During the reporting period, the fellow, with the mentoring, administrative and technical support from the host institute, has successfully accomplished Task A of the project (Characterisation of soil-water-plant interaction) on time, following the plan stated in the proposal. Some key findings that have been published/ submitted to high-impact journals and disseminated in scientific conferences are highlighted below:

1. We found a significant linear correlation between transpiration-induced soil suction and soil penetration resistance for ten selected plant species (grass and shrub) widespread in Europe
2. We discovered a new plant trait, root:shoot ratio, that showed very significant correlations with hydrological reinforcement to soil. This highlights the importance of considering the combined effects of the above- and below ground organs on the use of plants for soil stabilisation.
3. Our data shows that the commonly-quoted negative power law was not always applicable to describe a root strength-root diameter relationship. Indiscriminate use of the model could overestimate root strength, especially in the range of very small diameter roots.
4. A new laboratory testing method has been developed to measure the effects of plant roots on water retention and hydraulic conductivity of rooted soil, without the need to quantify plant evapotranspiration (ET) during a test (a key limitation of existing methods for assessing plant effects on soil properties).
5. We discovered that plant roots could induce substantial changes in water retention capability and hydraulic conductivity of soil. A new theoretical model that can capture the root-induced change in soil properties has been developed and verified through field and laboratory datasets.
6. We derived a new slope stability calculation method that can take in to account not only the mechanical root reinforcement, plant evapotranspiration but also root-induced changes in soil properties discovered. Among these effects, root-induced changes in soil properties play the most significant role in rainfall-induced slope stability, whereas the effects of plant transpiration are minimal during rainfall.

The track record that the fellow has built up through the CIG has made him successfully first promoted to Lecturer (permanent) in October 2015, and then subsequently to Senior Lecturer in October 2016. The fellow has built his own research team that comprises of 2 post-doctoral researchers, 2 PhD students and 2 MSc students (by research), through successful grant applications (e.g., EPSRC, UK). His research excellence has been recognised within and beyond the Europe, through a number of prominent roles he is currently taking on (e.g., Secretary of the Scottish Universities Geotechnical Network (SUGN), Editorial Board Member of top geotechnical journals, Canadian Geotechnical Journal and the Institution of Civil Engineers Geotechnical Engineering (ICE-GE) Journal, Editor (European) of the Bulletin of the Int. Soc. of Soil Mech. and Geotech. Engng (ISSMGE); Technical Secretary of the 7th Int. Conf. Unsat. Soils, Hong Kong, 2018; co-organiser of the mini-symposium “Thermal-hydro-mechanics of porous media” in the Int. Conf. of Porous Media 2017.

The fellow is expanding his research profile by actively collaborating with (i) academics nationally within and outside the host institute and also internationally; and (ii) industrial partners (National Rails and Highways England) who are interested in applying BioEPIC (Bioengineered plant-integrated cover) to increase the engineering and natural resilience of their assets of civil infrastructure.

Reported by

United Kingdom


Life Sciences
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