Mammalian bioturbation amplifies rates of both hillslope sediment erosion and accumulation along the Chilean climate gradient

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Animal burrowing activity affects soil texture, bulk density, soil water content, and redistribution of nutrients. All of these parameters in turn influence sediment redistribution, which shapes the earth's surface. Hence it is important to include bioturbation into hillslope sediment transport models. However, the inclusion of burrowing animals into hillslope-wide models has thus far been limited and has largely omitted vertebrate bioturbators, which can be major agents of bioturbation, especially in drier areas. Here, we included vertebrate bioturbator burrows into a semi-empirical Morgan-Morgan-Finney soil erosion model to allow a general approach to the assessment of the impacts of bioturbation on sediment redistribution within four sites along the Chilean climate gradient. For this, we predicted the distribution of burrows by applying machine learning techniques in combination with remotely sensed data in the hillslope catchment. Then, we adjusted the spatial model parameters at predicted burrow locations based on field and laboratory measurements. We validated the model using field sediment fences. We estimated the impact of bioturbator burrows on surface processes. Lastly, we analyzed how the impact of bioturbation on sediment redistribution depends on the burrow structure, climate, topography, and adjacent vegetation. Including bioturbation greatly increased model performance and demonstrates the overall importance of vertebrate bioturbators in enhancing both sediment erosion and accumulation along hillslopes, though this impact is clearly staggered according to climatic conditions. Burrowing vertebrates increased sediment accumulation by 137.8ĝ€¯%ĝ€¯±ĝ€¯16.4ĝ€¯% in the arid zone (3.53ĝ€¯kgĝ€¯ha-1ĝ€¯yr-1 vs. 48.79ĝ€¯kgĝ€¯ha-1ĝ€¯yr-1), sediment erosion by 6.5ĝ€¯%ĝ€¯±ĝ€¯0.7ĝ€¯% in the semi-arid zone (129.16ĝ€¯kgĝ€¯ha-1ĝ€¯yr-1 vs. 122.05ĝ€¯kgĝ€¯ha-1ĝ€¯yr-1), and sediment erosion by 15.6ĝ€¯%ĝ€¯±ĝ€¯0.3ĝ€¯% in the Mediterranean zone (4602.69ĝ€¯kgĝ€¯ha-1ĝ€¯yr-1 vs. 3980.96ĝ€¯kgĝ€¯ha-1ĝ€¯yr-1). Bioturbating animals seem to play only a negligible role in the humid zone. Within all climate zones, bioturbation did not uniformly increase erosion or accumulation within the whole hillslope catchment. This depended on adjusting environmental parameters. Bioturbation increased erosion with increasing slope, sink connectivity, and topography ruggedness and decreasing vegetation cover and soil wetness. Bioturbation increased sediment accumulation with increasing surface roughness, soil wetness, and vegetation cover.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3367-3394
Number of pages28
Issue number15
StatePublished - 14 Aug 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Copernicus GmbH. All rights reserved.


Dive into the research topics of 'Mammalian bioturbation amplifies rates of both hillslope sediment erosion and accumulation along the Chilean climate gradient'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this