Higher sediment redistribution rates related to burrowing animals than previously assumed as revealed by time-of-flight-based monitoring

Paulina Grigusova*, Annegret Larsen, Sebastian Achilles, Roland Brandl, Camilo Del Río, Nina Farwig, Diana Kraus, Leandro Paulino, Patricio Pliscoff, Kirstin Übernickel, Jörg Bendix

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Burrowing animals influence surface microtopography and hillslope sediment redistribution, but changes often remain undetected due to a lack of automated high-resolution field monitoring techniques. In this study, we present a new approach to quantify microtopographic variations and surface changes caused by burrowing animals and rainfall-driven erosional processes applied to remote field plots in arid and Mediterranean climate regions in Chile. We compared the mass balance of redistributed sediment between burrow and burrow-embedded area, quantified the cumulative sediment redistribution caused by animals and rainfall, and upscaled the results to a hillslope scale. The newly developed instrument, a time-of-flight camera, showed a very good detection accuracy. The animal-caused cumulative sediment excavation was 14.6 cm3 cm-2 yr-1 in the Mediterranean climate zone and 16.4 cm3 cm-2 yr-1 in the arid climate zone. The rainfall-related cumulative sediment erosion within burrows was higher (10.4 cm3 cm-2 yr-1) in the Mediterranean climate zone than the arid climate zone (1.4 cm3 cm-2 yr-1). Daily sediment redistribution during rainfall within burrow areas was up to 350 %(40 %) higher in the Mediterranean (arid) zone compared to burrow-embedded areas and much higher than previously reported in studies that were not based on continuous microtopographic monitoring. A total of 38 % of the sediment eroding from burrows accumulated within the burrow entrance, while 62 % was incorporated into hillslope sediment flux, which exceeds previous estimations 2-fold. On average, animals burrowed between 1.2-2.3 times a month, and the burrowing intensity increased after rainfall. This revealed a newly detected feedback mechanism between rainfall, erosion, and animal burrowing activity, likely leading to an underestimation of animal-triggered hillslope sediment flux in wetter climates. Our findings hence show that the rate of sediment redistribution due to animal burrowing is dependent on climate and that animal burrowing plays a larger than previously expected role in hillslope sediment redistribution. Subsequently, animal burrowing activity should be incorporated into soil erosion and landscape evolution models that rely on soil processes but do not yet include animal-induced surface processes on microtopographical scales in their algorithms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1273-1301
Number of pages29
JournalEarth Surface Dynamics
Issue number6
StatePublished - 22 Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes

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© 2022 Paulina Grigusova et al.


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