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Science of the Total Environment 609 (2017) 446 – 455 Contents lists available at ScienceDirect Science

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Science of the Total Environment

journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/scitotenv Characteristics and applications of ecological soil

Characteristics and applications of ecological soil substrate for rocky slope vegetation in cold and high-altitude areas

Hua Xu a ,b , , Tian-Bin Li b , Jian-Nan Chen c , Chia-Nan Liu d , Xiong-hua Zhou b , Lei Xia a

a Key Laboratory of High-Speed Railway Engineering, Ministry of Education, School of Civil Engineering, Southwest Jiaotong University, Chengdu, Sichuan 610031, China

b State Key Laboratory of Geohazard Prevention and Geoenvironment Protection, Chengdu University of Technology, Chengdu, Sichuan 610059, China

c Department of Geoscience and Environmental Engineering, Southwest Jiaotong University, Chengdu, Sichuan 610031, China

d Department of Civil Engineering, National Chi-Nan University, Nantou 545, Taiwan

Engineering, National Chi-Nan University, Nantou 545, Taiwan HIGHLIGHTS • Ecological soil substrates were devel- oped

HIGHLIGHTS

Ecological soil substrates were devel- oped to provide a favorable environ- ment for vegetation on the rocky slopes.

The compositional effect by individual compound on properties of substrates was investigated by orthogonal array method.

The mechanical properties, nutrition facts and growth of vegetation of the op- timum substrate was validated by a eld test.

The optimum substrate is appropriate for ecological restoration on the steep rocky slopes in cold and high-altitude regions.

article info

Article history:

Received 7 May 2017 Received in revised form 16 July 2017 Accepted 17 July 2017 Available online xxxx

Editor: F.M. Tack

Keywords:

Synthesized soil Vegetation Rocky slope Cold and high-altitude Substrate

GRAPHICAL ABSTRACT

slope Cold and high-altitude Substrate GRAPHICAL ABSTRACT abstract Ecological restoration of steep rocky slopes

abstract

Ecological restoration of steep rocky slopes generated by road cutting is usually difcult especially, in the cold and high-altitude environment, which is unfavorable for the growth of vegetation. With the focus on slope vegeta- tion, an ecological soil substrate, synthesized with polyacrylamide (PAM), carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC), and Fly ash (FA) as the main components, was developed for spray seeding on the rocky slopes in cold and high- altitude regions, to provide a favorable environment for vegetation growth. The compositional effect of individual compound addition on the growth of vegetation and substrate properties was investigated using an orthogonal array experimental design. Based on ANOVA and orthogonal analysis, an ecological soil substrate (PCF) with 400 g/m 3 PAM, 600 g/m 3 CMC, 1500 g/m 3 FA, and 50 L/m 3 of water was decided as the optimum PCF substrate. The optimum PCF substrate was then sprayed on a steep rocky slope in a cold and high-altitude region in Sichuan, China, for two years. The vegetation, as well as the physico-chemical properties, nutrient content, and mechanical properties of the eld soil substrate, were examined over this duration. The eld verication shows that the pro- posed PCF substrate is able to provide desirable nutrient contents and excellent physical and mechanical proper- ties for vegetating the steep rocky slopes in cold and high-altitude areas.

© 2017 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Corresponding author at: School of Civil Engineering, Southwest Jiaotong University, Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China. E-mail addresses: xuhua@home.swjtu.edu.cn, xuhua8318@163.com (H. Xu).

0048-9697/© 2017 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

H. Xu et al. / Science of the Total Environment 609 (2017) 446455

447

1. Introduction

Construction of railways, highways, dams, and mining facilities pro- duces several steep rocky slopes due to the massive road cutting in-

volved ( Xu et al., 2007; Xu et al., 2009 ). As a consequence, natural disasters, such as soil erosion, landslides, and debris ow, could poten- tially occur during the construction or service life of such infrastructure. Conventional engineering techniques for slope protection, such as an- chor bolts and grouted revetment, provide excellent short-term en- hancement to the slope stability, but do not offer a long-term solution for erosion control, due to the very low vegetation coverage on the slopes ( Ahlstrom et al., 2016; Schreit and Andreas, 2016 ). Therefore, ecological techniques, considering both mechanical strength and eco- logical restoration, are key for slope protection (Gao et al., 2007). The construction of infrastructure in the western part of China pro- duces several naked rocky slopes, which have no ambient surface soil to maintain the growth of vegetation ( Gao et al., 2007; Xu et al., 2009). The most commonly used ecological techniques for slope protec- tion are hydraulic seeding and external-soil spray seeding (Gao et al., 2007; Xu et al., 2009 ). Hydraulic seeding, with the advantage of high mechanization and efciency, has been used widely in the early-stage applications for ecological restoration on rocky slopes ( Carr and Ballard, 1980; Montoro et al., 2000; Bochet and Garcia-Fayos, 2004 ). However, Bochet and Garcia-Fayos (2004) found that the efciency of hydraulic seeding application was low for slopes steeper than 45°, due to poor attachment and nutrient deciency. External-soil spray seeding

is a modied version of hydraulic seeding. In this method, the external

soil (or substrate) includes base soil, fertilizers, soil conditioners, water retention agents, adhesive binders, and seeds (Gao et al., 2007).

It can coat the rocky slopes in the form of a 100 mm-thick substrate

layer, with nutrient and water supplies for seed germination and growth (Gao et al., 2007). Although external-soil spray seeding is a useful technique for the ecological restoration of rocky slopes, problems such as substrate spalling and vegetation degradation still exist during its practical appli- cation (Gao et al., 2007; Liu and Han, 2007; Zhao, 2012). An inappropri- ate substrate soil might induce failures such as low adhesion, water and nutrient deciency, and poor adaptability to harsh climates. The critical issue is deciding the components of the appropriate substrate soil. Previous studies have focused mainly on the feasibility and improve- ment of external-soil spray seeding by evaluating the vegetation germi- nation and growth ( Merlin et al., 1999; Cano et al., 2002; Rowe et al., 2005). Cano et al. (2002) used a mixture of short ber mulch, soluble chemical fertilizer, organic tackier, and a commercial seed mixture of grasses and herbaceous legumes for hydraulic seeding on a rocky slope ( N 50°) in northwestern Spain. The study showed that the local topoclimate had a strong impact on the growth of vegetation. Rowe et al. (2005) studied the use of hydrogel or slate processing nes treated with blocky quarry waste for tree planting. The results showed that tree survival improved with the treatment by slate processing nes but not

with hydrogel. The failure of the hydrogel is due to shrinkage, which is likely due to the lack of soil-forming material and extreme environment. The aforementioned studies presented the feasibility of using external or amended soil, however, only a few studies have focused on the effect of composition on the ecological restoration in external soil, as well as its long-term performance and adaptation to the environment. Ga o et al. (2007) studied the compositional effects of substrates such as ce- ment, peat soil, chipped wood, inorganic compound fertilizers, and water-absorbent polymers. By examining the physico-chemical proper- ties and plant growth, they determined the appropriate substrates by the orthogonal array method. The optimum substrate was veri ed on

a rocky slope with a gradient of 50° in a warm and low-altitude region

for 100 days. However, only the vegetation coverage and soil loss in the eld test were investigated, and long-term nutrient and water con- tents, and root growth data were not reported. In addition, the optimum substrate might not be applied directly to the harsh environment, such

as rocky slopes in cold and high-altitude regions, where the germination and growth of vegetation are limited by the temperature, insufcient water, and nutrients (Xu et al., 2009). The aim of this study is to develop appropriate soil substrates for wide purposes, especially ecological res- toration of steep rock slopes in cold and high-altitude regions, which present the worst case for the use of soil substrates.

2. Material and methods

2.1. Components of ecological substrates

The external soils are usually synthesized by mixing adhesion bind- er, fertilizer and water absorbent with base soil ( Merlin et al., 1999; Cano et al., 2002; Rowe et al., 2005; Gao et al., 2007). The most widely used adhesive binder is cement which can provide high adhesion to the rocky slope (Gao et al., 2007). However, cement cannot be easily de- graded and will likely to induce environmental issues, such as high pH efuent and heavy metals (Van Der Sloot, 2000). The commonly used fertilizer is inorganic compound fertilizer (nitrogen, phosphate and po- tassium as main contents), which can provide nutrition for vegetation instantly (Cano et al., 2002; Rowe et al., 2005; Gao et al., 2007). Howev- er, the inorganic compound fertilizer could induce soil acidication and hardening which will destroy the structure and chemistry of the soil (Wallace, 2008). The commonly used water absorbent are water absor- bent polymers, such as polyacrylamide (PAM) hydrogel, which can ef- fectively bound water and generate high pellet degree ( Rowe et al., 2005; Gao et al., 2007). In this study, some components, including polyacrylamide (PAM), carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC), and y ash (FA), with additional water (W add. ), were added to the base soil (loamy soil) to provide suit- able adhesion on the rocky slope, in addition to water and nutrients. A mixture of forest humus and loam (1:10 by weight) was used as base soil for the substrate. The soil was sampled from the eld site (men- tioned in Section 2.3) with the following physical properties: density = 1.31.5 g/cm 3 , water content = 68%, and organic content = 35%. Other loamy soils with similar properties can also be used as base soil. The choice of components is based on how environmental-friendly and economical they are. Therefore, biodegradable (i.e., CMC) and recycled materials (i.e., FA) are preferred as additives to the substrate, and the maximum load of additives in the substrate is b 2.6 kg/m 3 .

2.1.1. PAM

PAM is a long-chain polymer with occulation characteristics (Vysotskaya et al., 1990). PAM has been widely used to improve the sta- bility and erosion resistance of clayey and sandy soils ( Vinten et al., 1983a, 1983b; Trout and Ajwa, 2001; Lentz, 2003; Lentz and Sojka, 2009a, 2009b; Sepaskhah and Sokoot, 2010). Asghari et al. (2011) stat- ed that PAM could improve the moisture curve of soil on the slope, and sustain a high, saturated hydraulic conductivity by forming stable ag- gregates. PAM could attenuate the soil erosion, increase the water inl- tration, and decrease the slope runoff ( Sepaskhah and Bazrafshan-Jahromi, 2006; Sepaskhah and Mahdi-Hosseinabadi, 2008; Lentz and Sojka, 2009b). Busscher et al. (2009) found that PAM could in- crease the number of soil pellets, which could disturb the bulk structure of stiff soil and reduce the permeability of the soil. In the ecological sub- strates, PAM has three functions: (1) improve the soil structure and en- hance the number of soil pellets, (2) improve the stability of particles and pore structure, (3) improve the permeability and eld capacity of soil.

2.1.2. CMC

CMC is a non-ionic water-soluble gel with a great proportion of hy- droxymethyl and amide groups, and it can be biologically degraded (Avera, 1989; El-Mohdy, 2007). CMC has good water absorption and ad- hesion, and can be cured at room temperature (20 °C). CMC has been used widely in agriculture for soil improvement as a water-retaining

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H. Xu et al. / Science of the Total Environment 609 (2017) 446455

agent ( Avera, 1989; El-Mohdy, 2007; Raafat et al., 2012 ). Ali and Inst (2011) showed that the addition of CMC to the soil enhances the water retention capacity of soil by decreasing the volumetric density of soil as well as the connectivity and diameter of the pores. Wu et al. (2015) found that adding CMC to the soils can decrease the permeabil- ity and enhance the water retention capacity of soils. In this study, CMC is used as an adhesive binder to improve the water retention capacity and aggregation of substrates.

2.1.3. Fly ash

Fly ash is a by-product from coal combustion process. Due to its ne particle size (b 0.075 mm), light weight, high water absorption, and ad- equate nutrient content, y ash has been widely used as an additive for ecological restoration in mining sites ( Ram and Masto, 2010). Fly ash contains the essential nutrients (e.g., Si, Al, Fe, K, and trace elements) for vegetation growth, and can effectively improve the soil fertility and promote vegetation growth (Ramesh and Chhonkar, 2001; Gupta et al., 2002; Ram et al., 2006). In addition, y ash could effectively im- prove the soil structure, air-water permeability, and eld capacity, de- crease the volumetric density, and enhance the efciency of cations in the soil, while inhibiting pests and diseases (Ram et al., 2007; Pandey and Singh, 2010; Ram and Masto, 2010; Ram and Masto, 2014; Shaheen et al., 2014). In this study, y ash was used to provide nutrients to the ecological substrate.

2.1.4. Additional water

Water is essential for the germination and growth of vegetation (Taylor et al., 1982). Liquid water ensures the transportation of nutri- ents and improves the growth of vegetation ( Bakass et al., 2002 ). Al- though the loamy substrate soil might have a certain water content, additional water should be added to the ecological substrate to meet the objective of long-term growth of vegetation. In the present study, an appropriate level of water addition was required for the germination and growth of vegetation as well as for achieving a better pellet degree. Based on the aforementioned physical and chemical characteristics of PAM, CMC, and FA, these components have different roles in the eco- logical substrates. This study is aimed to take the advantages of each component to develop ecological substrates with good nutrient and water retention capacity as well as high stability on the rocky slopes. Ex- perimental tests were conducted to determine the optimum propor- tioning ratio for each component.

2.2. Laboratory experiments to determine the optimal substrate composition

2.2.1. Orthogonal design

Laboratory experiments were designed to investigate the optimum combination of compounds in the PCF substrate. An orthogonal array design ( L 9 3 4 ) with four factors, i.e., PAM, CMC, FA, and W add. , was de-

signed, and three levels of each factor were used in the investigation. The compositions for each level are shown in Table 1, and the orthogo- nal design matrix is listed in Table 2. The nine substrates were placed in a cuboid planter box (L × W × H = 1 m × 0.5 m × 0.1 m), and triplicate tests were conducted for each substrate (total 27 tests).

2.2.2. Experimental set up

PCF substrates (100-mm depth) were placed in the cuboid planter boxes in two steps: 1) 90-mm of PCF substrate without seeds was rst

Table 1 Properties of each level in the laboratory experiments.

Levels

PAM (g/m 3 )

CMC (g/m 3 )

FA (g/m 3 )

W add. (L/m 3 )

1

200

300

500

10

2

400

600

1000

30

3

600

900

1500

50

Table 2 Orthogonal design of the study.

Substrate

Orthogonal design

 

Compositions

 

no.

matrix

PAM

CMC

FA

W add.

PAM (g/m 3 )

CMC (g/m 3 )

FA (g/m 3 )

W

add.

 

(L/m 3 )

1

1

1

1

1

200

300

500

10

2

1

2

2

2

200

600

1000

30

3

1

3

3

3

200

900

1500

50

4

2

1

2

3

400

300

1000

50

5

2

2

3

1

400

600

1500

10

6

2

3

1

2

400

900

500

30

7

3

1

3

2

600

300

1500

30

8

3

2

1

3

600

600

500

50

9

3

3

2

1

600

900

1000

10

thoroughly mixed and lled in the cuboid planter boxes as the base layer, 2) another 10-mm of PCF substrate with 3035 g/m 2 (approxi- mately 80 seeds) of Festuca arundinacea seeds was placed on top of the base layer. The planter boxes were then moved to a 53° (H:V = 0.75:1) articial slope to simulate a steep slope, under room tempera- ture (20 ± 2 °C). Festuca arundinacea, a cool-season, long-lived, peren- nial species, was selected as the representative plant for cold and high-altitude regions. Festuca arundinacea has been widely as an orna- mental grass in the ecological restoration of western China, and was used for eld verication as well (mentioned later in the Section 2.3). The germination rate and height of Festuca arundinacea, as well as the pellet degree and eld capacity of the substrate, were used as index criteria for the determination of optimum PCF substrate.

2.2.3. Determination of vegetation growth and substrate properties Germination rate and plant height were the main indicators to de- termine the plant growth. Germination rate was calculated after 10 days using Eq. (1) (Brenchley and Probert, 1998).

Germination ð% Þ ¼ N A 100

ð1Þ

where A = number of germinated seeds and N = number of total seeds tested. The height of the plants was recorded on the 30th day of the tests, by measuring the distance from top of the substrate to the spear leaf. The average values as well as the standard deviations were report- ed in this study. Pellet degree and eld capacity are important physical indicators of nutrient and water retention in the PCF substrate. Pellet degree was de- termined by the wet-sieve method in ASTM D6572-2012, and the eld capacity was measured following the method described in Wilcox (1939) . Both methods require the specimens with less disturbance, therefore, to minimize the boundary effect, specimens were obtained in the center of the box and trimmed using a steel-cutting ring with inner diameter = 62 mm and height = 20 mm.

2.3. Field test to determine the performance of optimum PCF substrate

2.3.1. Site description To evaluate the performance of the optimum PCF substrate in a cold and high-altitude region, eld tests were conducted on a rocky slope at the westbound road of Zhe-Gu mountain tunnel (K7+008K7+063, Sichuan, China) along state highway 317 (N 31°50 49.37 , E 102°38 22.45 ). The Zhe-Gu mountain tunnel is located on the northwest Sichuan-plateau, with an altitude of 3300 m. The average annual precip- itation is 910 to 938 mm, and temperature varies from 3.8 to 3.3 °C, with extreme temperatures of 31.1 °C and 30 °C. The testing site was a steep (4555°) rocky slope composed of meta- morphic sandstone and slate with no soil cover but a fractured surface

H. Xu et al. / Science of the Total Environment 609 (2017) 446455

449

Science of the Total Environment 609 (2017) 446 – 455 449 Fig. 1. Test slope before

Fig. 1. Test slope before the substrate placement (a) and schematic view of the eld test (b).

(Fig. 1a). The maximum height of the slope was 30 m and the total area is approximately 1000 m 2 .

nutrient contents and mechanical properties. The evaluated nutrients include: total nitrogen (NT, Kjeldahl method; Bremner and Mulvaney, 1982 ), available phosphorous (P A , molybdenum blue method; Bray

2.3.2.

Field test setup

and Kurtz, 1945 ), available potassium (K A , Hudcova, 1979 ), organics

To maintain the stability of the 30 m-high test slope, the slope was

(C O , organic carbon; Mebius, 1960), and carbon nitrogen ratio (C/N).

divided into upper and lower sections: (1) the lower section, 20 m ver- tically above the highway pavement, was constructed at H:V = 0.5:1,

Shear failure is the main failure mode of ecological substrates on the rocky slopes (Wang et al., 2016). The total shear strength of substrates

and

(2) the upper section, 10 m vertically above the lower section,

against shear failure is composed of the shear strength of the pure sub-

was

constructed at H:V = 0.75:1. A 1-m wide platform was maintained

strate and the root development of vegetation (Ma'Ruf, 2012; Mazzuoli

between the two sections. The schematic view of the eld test on the rocky slope is shown in Fig. 1 b. The slope was protected by rockbolt

et al., 2016). The shear strength of the pure substrate (no vegetation) as well as the vegetation-substrate complex (i.e., samples from eld test)

and

wire mesh. After the rockbolt and wire mesh were setup on the

were tested in this study. The shear strength tests were conducted fol-

slope, 100-mm deep substrate with optimum composition and seeds

lowing ASTM D3080-11, under normal stresses of 50, 100, 150, and

was

sprayed on the surface of the slope. The substrate was sprayed in

250 kPa with a displacement rate of 1.0 mm/min.

two

steps: rst, a 70 80-mm layer of substrate without seeds was

sprayed on the surface of slope as a nutrition layer, and then, a 2030-

3. Results

mm

substrate with seeds was sprayed on top of the nutrition layer.

The

seed mixture included bluegrass, ryegrass, Festuca arundinacea ,

The results of orthogonal experiments (L 9 3 4 ) on the nine different

3.1. Effect of PAM on the PCF substrates

and

alfalfa (weigh ratio = 1:1:4:4) at a total density of 350 g/m 3 . Non-

combinations were analyzed using Statistical Product and Service Solu-

woven textiles were used to cover the substrate after spray seeding to avoid mass loss due to precipitation and solar damage. After 30 days, the vegetation coverage on the slope reached approximately 90%, and mass loss of only 0.1%0.6% was found in the eld investigation, which indicates a good erosion resistance of the PCF substrate. The eld test found that the substrate reinforced by the wire mesh was stable for use as an external soil substrate for ecological restoration, and no col- lapse and peeling was observed during the testing period.

tions 11.0 (SPSS) and shown in Table 3. The average value and standard deviation of the triplicate tests are presented in the table. The analysis of variance (ANOVA) for the orthogonal experiments showed that each factor (i.e., PAM, CMC, FA, and W add. ) had a strong impact on the growth of vegetation and substrates properties, with most p values b 0.05 (Table 4). The test results are presented in the following sections.

2.3.3. Determination of nutrient contents and mechanical properties

Substrates were sampled periodically during a 23-month (two hy- drological cycles, starting in April) period after spray seeding, for

Table 3 The results of orthogonal experiments on the nine different combinations.

Substrate

Germination

Plants height

Pellet degree

Field capacity

no.

rate

Ave. (%)

Std.

Ave.

Std.

Ave. (%)

Std.

Ave.

Std.

 

(mm)

(g/kg)

1

40.3

2.1

29.3

1.5

61.3

0.6

178.2

2.4

2

55.7

2.5

45.0

1.7

64.8

1.2

227.6

2.2

3

74.7

2.3

55.3

2.1

66.7

0.9

253.3

2.0

4

90.3

3.1

60.0

1.7

67.1

0.7

266.7

2.5

5

60.3

2.1

45.0

1.0

72.0

0.7

313.1

1.9

6

70.7

1.5

30.3

1.2

73.6

1.0

317.9

2.4

7

69.7

1.5

69.7

0.6

81.8

0.8

314.0

1.5

8

80.3

2.3

30.3

1.5

83.1

0.6

338.2

2.1

9

50.3

2.5

25.9

1.5

87.5

0.7

368.0

1.3

The PAM content in the substrates had a strong impact on the germi- nation rate, plant height, pellet degree, and eld capacity, with all the ANOVA p-values b 0.05 (Fig. 2). As PAM content increased from 200 to 600 g/m 3 , the pellet degree increased from 64% to 84%, and the eld ca- pacity enhanced from 220 to 340 g/kg. The pellet degree increased sharply (71% to 84%) between the PAM content of 400 and 600 g/m 3 , while the increase in eld capacity was even more obvious (from 220 to 299 g/kg) between the PAM content of 200 and 400 g/m 3 . The germi- nation rate and plant height showed optimum values at PAM content of

Table 4 Signicance (p-values of ANOVA) of the factors on the growth of vegetation and substrate properties.

Indices

PAM

CMC

FA

W add.

Germination rate

b 0.001

0.31

0.002

b 0.001

Plant height

0.001

b 0.001

b 0.001

b 0.001

Pellet degree

b 0.001

b 0.001

0.12

0.007

Field capacity

b 0.001

b 0.001

b 0.001

0.89

No signicant differences (p N 0.05).

450

H. Xu et al. / Science of the Total Environment 609 (2017) 446455

/ Science of the Total Environment 609 (2017) 446 – 455 Fig. 2. Effect of PAM

Fig. 2. Effect of PAM content on the (a) growth of vegetation and (b) substrate properties.

400 g/m 3 , and decreased from 74% to 67% and from 45 to 42 mm, re-

spectively, when the PAM content increased from 400 to 600 g/m 3 . The test results indicate that excessive PAM content could suppress the growth of the plants. Therefore, considering both plant growth and the substrate properties, a PAM content of 400 g/m 3 is recommend- ed for the optimum PCF substrates.

3.2. Effect of CMC on the PCF substrates

The addition of CMC was shown to improve the pellet degree and eld capacity in the substrates, with the p-values of ANOVA b 0.05 in both cases ( Fig. 3 b). The pellet degree and eld capacity increased from 70% to 76% and from 253 to 313 g/kg, respectively, as the CMC con- tents increased from 300 to 900 g/m 3 . In particular, the eld capacity of substrates increased sharply (253 to 293 g/kg) as the CMC contents in- creased from 300 to 600 g/m 3 . However, the CMC contents had a nega- tive impact on the plant height (p b 0.05), but showed no signi cant impact on the germination rate (p = 0.31) (Fig. 3a). The plant height decreased from 53 to 37 mm as the CMC contents increased. As CMC

is a binder material for the stability and erosion control of the substrates,

600 g/m 3 of CMC showed a higher plant height than 900 g/m 3 of CMC.

Therefore, a CMC content of 600 g/m 3 is recommended for the optimum PCF substrates.

3.3. Effect of FA on the PCF substrates

The test results indicate that the an increase in the FA contents could promote plant height (p b 0.05) and in uence the eld capacity and

germination rate as well (p b 0.05) (Fig. 4). The plant height increased signicantly from 30 to 56 mm as the FA contents increased from 500

to 1500 g/m 3 , while the eld capacity and germination of the plants in-

creased slightly. However, no signicant impact of FA on the pellet de- gree was observed, which was also supported by the ANOVA for orthogonal experiments (p = 0.12). The results indicate that increasing FA contents could promote the growth of vegetation, leading to higher germination rate and height, which should be benecial for ecological restoration in harsh environments as there would be fast vegetation coverage during a short period. However, an increase in the FA contents could also reduce the void ratio and air permeability of the PCF sub- strates due to the ne particle size of FA as well as increased cost of the substrate. Therefore, in this study, a FA content of 1500 g/m 3 is rec- ommended for the optimum PCF substrate.

3.4. Effect of W add. on the PCF substrates

The effects of water addition on the germination rate, plant height, and pellet degree are shown in Fig. 5 . The Wilcox method ( Wilcox, 1939) for eld capacity requires saturation of substrates during testing,

and the effect of water addition is masked by the testing method. There- fore, the effect of W add. on the eld capacity cannot be observed and re- ported in this study. Based on the analysis for signi cant effects, the

W add. showed a strong impact on the growth of vegetation (p b 0.05).

As W add. increased from 10 to 50 L/m 3 , the germination rate increased from 50% to 82%, and the plant height also increased from 33 to

48 mm. However, the plant height increased only by 1 mm when the

W add. increased from 30 to 50 L/m 3 . The pellet degree reduced slightly

from 30 to 50 L/m 3 . The pellet degree reduced slightly Fig. 3. Effect of

Fig. 3. Effect of CMC contents on the (a) growth of vegetation and (b) substrate properties.

H. Xu et al. / Science of the Total Environment 609 (2017) 446455

451

Science of the Total Environment 609 (2017) 446 – 455 451 Fig. 4. Effect of FA

Fig. 4. Effect of FA contents on the (a) growth of vegetation and (b) substrate properties.

from 74% to 72% when the W add. surpassed 30 L/m 2 , which is likely due to the dissolution of pellets by excessive water content. It can be pre- dicted that if W add. increases beyond 50 L/m 3 , the pellet degree is likely to decrease, while little or no increase in plant height would be found. Therefore, for the aforementioned reasons, a W add. content of 50 L/m 3 is recommended for the optimum PCF substrates.

3.5. Field performance of optimum PCF substrate

3.5.1. Physical properties of the optimum PCF substrate

Samples were taken ve times (at 7, 30, 90, 180, and 270 days) after spray seeding, using a steel-cutting ring with inner diameter = 62 mm and height = 20 mm in the middle of the slope. The physical properties of the optimized substrate of eld samples are shown in Table 5 . The unit weight of PCF substrates was between 12.3 and 14.3 kN/m 3 , which is approximately 1.1 to 1.6 times that of clay minerals ( Holtz et al., 2011 ). The water content varied between 23.7% and 53.8%, while the void ratio and specic gravity of soil particles were relatively stable over the testing period, with values around 63% and 2.59, respec-

tively. The pH of the substrate remained between 7.3 and 7.5, and the eld capacity ranged from 180.4 to 582.8 g/kg, indicating that the sub- strate had a strong capability for water retention. The test results indi- cate that the physical properties of PCF ecological substrate provide appropriate hydrological environment for the growth of vegetation on the slope.

3.5.2. Nutrient contents in the optimum PCF substrate

The nutrient contents for the PCF substrate from the eld tests are

shown in Table 6. Samples were taken six times (at 7, 30, 90, 180, 430,

690 days) after spray seeding. The total N content increased from

0.39% to 0.44% between days 7 and 180, and decreased to 0.35% at

690 days. The available P increased continuously from 10.1 mg/kg to

The available P increased continuously from 10.1 mg/kg to Fig. 5. Effect of initial water contents

Fig. 5. Effect of initial water contents on the growth of plants and substrate properties.

25.0 mg/kg during the entire testing period, while the available K and organics decreased from 913.3 to 249.3 mg/kg and from 9.2% to 7.5%, re- spectively, between days 7 and 430 days, but increased and stabilized at 400 mg/kg and 7.8%, respectively, at the 690 days. The C/N ratio de- creased from 13.6 to 10.4 by the end of 180 days, which is due to the de- crease in organics and increase in total N. However, the C/N ratio increased after 430 days and stabilized at around 12.112.7.

3.5.3. Mechanical properties of the optimum PCF substrate The vegetation-substrate samples were taken nine times from the eld site during the 23-month testing period (at 7, 30, 90, 180, 270, 420, 480, 570, and 690 days). The shear strength and cohesion of the pure substrate stabilized at 61.3 and 13.6 kPa, respectively, while the friction angle reached 25.5°, which are higher than the typical values for bare land (12.716.9 kPa and 8.1°11.8°, respectively), as reported by Li et al. (2013). The temporal trends for the shear strength and strength parameters of substrate-vegetation complex are shown in Fig. 6. The test results are compared to understand the contribution of roots to the substrates. An increase of shear strength and strength parameters was observed dur- ing the rst 180 days. After 180 days, when the plants were relatively mature and the slope was well covered by the vegetation (Fig. 7), the total shear strength of the substrate-vegetation complex was higher than the shear strength of the pure substrate. The maximum shear strength and the maximum friction angle both occurred at 180 days, at 95.9 kPa and 33.9°, respectively. The cohesion increased to a maxi- mum value of 33.9 kPa at 570 days and stabilized thereafter. In general, the shear strength and strength parameters of the substrate-vegetation complex are signicantly greater than the maximum values of the sub- strate (dashed line in Fig. 6a) during the testing period. It indicates that the growth of vegetation enhances the shear resistance of the substrate.

Table 5 Physical properties of the optimized substrate.

Time

Unit weight γ (kN/m 3 ) a

Water

Void

Speci c Gs d gravity

pH e

Field

(days)

content w

ratio e

capacity

 

(%) b

(%) c

(g/kg) f

7

13.5

41.7

63.0

2.59

7.4

247.9

30

14.3

53.8

64.0

2.56

7.3

582.8

90

13.9

45.6

63.0

2.56

7.4

292.3

180

12.3

23.7

65.0

2.69

7.4

324.0

270

12.8

24.9

60.0

2.55

7.5

180.4

a Following ASTM D7263-09.

b Following ASTM D2216-10.

c Following ASTM D7263-09.

d Following ASTM D854-14.

e Measured by Themo 5-star pH Meter.

f Following Wilcox (1939).

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H. Xu et al. / Science of the Total Environment 609 (2017) 446455

Table 6 Nutrient contents in the optimized substrate.

Time

Total nitrogen N T (%) a

Available phosphorous P A (mg/kg) b

Available potassium K A (mg/kg) c

Organics C o (%) d

C/N

(days)

ratio e

7

0.39

10.1

913.3

9.2

13.6

30

0.41

10.9

679.3

9.4

13.2

90

0.45

8.6

540.0

8.7

11.3

180

0.44

11.6

504.8

7.8

10.4

430

0.34

20.8

249.3

7.5

12.1

690

0.35

25.0

422.5

7.8

12.7

a Kjeldahl method following Bremner and Mulvaney (1982).

b Molybdenum blue method following Bray and Kurtz (1945).

c Following the method described by Hudcova, 1979.

d Following the method described by Mebius (1960).

e Carbon nitrogen ratio.

A close examination of the root growth was conducted after 360 days.

The root was observed as well developed on the test slope ( Fig. 8 ), with a taproot length of 0.2 0.6 m, and a penetration depth in the rock cracks up to 0.5 m. The brous root attached closely to the under- neath rock thus forming a complex of substrate, root, and rock. Seasonal effects on the shear strength and strength parameters could be observed, based on their temporal uctuation behavior. For ex- ample, at 420 days (during spring), the melting snow and increased pre- cipitation enhanced the water content of the substrate, and the shear strength and friction angle decreased to 76.3 kPa and 24.2°, respectively. However, during winter (570 days), due to the drier condition of the substrate, the shear strength and friction angle increased again to 91.2 kPa and 29.8°, respectively, with a subsequent decrease again in the next spring (at 690 days).

4. Discussion

4.1. The optimum PCF substrate

4.1.1. The selection of optimum PAM content Johnson and Piper (1997) found that the structure of PAM can ad- sorb gravitational water to maintain high moisture content. John et al. (2005) found that PAM could help the soil aggregates maintain high nu- trition by enhancing the sorption of organic matters and prohibiting the decomposition of organics. In this study, PAM helps improve the pellet

degree and eld capacity of the substrates. Therefore, under the premise

of better vegetation growth, higher pellet degree and eld capacity of

the substrates are expected.

Huttermann et al. (1999) stated that, under arid conditions, the veg- etation growing in the soil with 0.4% PAM treatment lived twice as long as the one growing on plain soil. Under dry conditions, the germination and height of plants increased as the PAM content increased (Li et al., 2005). However, the addition of PAM also increased the permeability of substrates, which would enhance the evaporation and affect the veg- etation growth. Lentz and Sojka (1994) found that addition of 0.07 g/m 2 PAM could increase the permeability of soil by 15%. In this study, the re- sults showed that the pellet degree and eld capacity increased as the PAM contents increased. When PAM increased from 200 to 600 g/m 3 , the pellet degree and eld capacity increased from 64% to 84% and from 220 to 340 g/kg, respectively. However, when PAM increased from 400 to 600 g/m 3 , the germination and height of the plants de- creased from 74% to 67% and from 45 to 42 mm, respectively. Therefore, under the premise of better growth of vegetation, 400 g/m 3 of PAM is the optimum content for the PCF substrates.

4.1.2. The selection of optimum CMC content In this study, CMC is used as adhesive binder to improve the stability, water retention capacity, and aggregation of substrates. Gebauer and Coughlin (1971) stated that CMC can improve the strength and erosion control of cement pastes. Lu et al. (2009) added 1% CMC in asphalt ce- ment and found that the CMC can effectively improve the stratication and settlement of asphalt. The results showed that, as the CMC content increased from 300 to 900 g/m 3 , the eld capacity and pellet degree increased by 60 g/kg (from 253 to 313 g/kg) and 6% (70% to 76%), respectively. The trend is similar to the ndings of Ali and Inst (2011) , which added 2% 4% of CMC into the soil and found that CMC contents induced higher void ratio and eld capacity in the soils. Wu et al. (2015) found that the ag- gregates increased with increasing CMC contents. However, excessive CMC could induce soil hardening and limit the air permeability, thus, inhibiting the growth of vegetation (Wu et al., 2015). In this study, a de- creasing trend was observed for plant height with increasing CMC con- tents. Therefore, to maintain the growth of vegetation as well as a high adhesion of substrates to the rocky slopes, 600 g/m 3 is recommended as the optimum content for CMC.

4.1.3. The selection of optimum FA content In this study, y ash had no obvious effect on the aggregation, but enhanced the growth of plants. The height of the plants increased by 26 mm (from 30 to 56 mm) with an increase in the y ash content from 500 to 1500 g/m 3 . Goyal et al. (2002a, 2002b) added y ash to the topsoil of a coal mine and found that it could improve the growth

of a coal mine and found that it could improve the growth Fig. 6. Shear strength,

Fig. 6. Shear strength, cohesion (a), and friction angle (b) of the vegetation-substrate complex.

H. Xu et al. / Science of the Total Environment 609 (2017) 446455

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Science of the Total Environment 609 (2017) 446 – 455 453 Fig. 7. Vegetation condition after

Fig. 7. Vegetation condition after spray seeding (a) at 7th day and (b) at 180th day.

of certain plants, such as Robinia pseudoacacia, eucalyptus, and poplar. Gupta et al. (2000) found that the mixture of y ash and poultry manure could improve the amount of vegetation growth by 26% in a soil with se- vere erosion and malnutrition. At the same time, the eld capacity of substrates increased slightly (from 278 to 293 g/kg), which is similar to the observations by Ghodrati et al. (1995) . The ne particles of y ash could improve the pore structure and permeability of the soil by re- placing the coarser particles and accumulating in the soil matrix (Truter et al., 2005; Ram et al., 2007). Ghodrati et al. (1995) found that y ash could improve the structure and eld capacity of sandy soils by increas- ing the micro pores in the soil matrix. In addition, y ash is able to re- duce the crust on the soil surface, and improve the air permeability and germination of vegetation ( Ram and Masto, 2010). However, due to the possible clogging of pores by y ash, excessive y ash could re- duce the air permeability, regenerate the nutrition lost by water erosion, and increase the cost. Therefore, 1500 g/m 3 of y ash is the suggested content for the optimum PCF substrate.

4.1.4. The selection of optimum water addition The results showed that water addition had a strong impact on the germination. The germination rate increased almost linearly from 50% to 82% with an increase in W add. from 10 to 50 L/m 3 . Hosseini et al. (2009) found that a decrease in W add. induced lower germination rates as well as delayed germination. In addition, plants with earlier ger- mination had a better growth. Therefore, appropriate water addition is essential for germination. In this study, when W add. b 30 L/m 3 , there was no statistical effect on the pellet degree (p N 0.05). However, as the W add. increased to 50 L/m 3 , the pellet degree decreased slightly from 74% to 72%, which is likely due to the soil dilution by high water addition. Therefore, water addition N 50 L/m 3 is not appropriate, due to potentially low degree of aggregation. To ensure enough water for

low degree of aggregation. To ensure enough water for the growth of vegetation on the rocky

the growth of vegetation on the rocky slope, 50 L/m 3 of W add. is recom- mended for the optimum PCF substrate.

4.2. Field application of PCF substrates

The optimum PCF substrate (400 g/m 3 of PAM, 600 g/m 3 of CMC, 1500 g/m 3 of FA, and 50 L/m 3 of W add. ) presented a high eld capacity (180.4 to 582.8 g/kg) during the testing period, indicating that the sub- strate had a strong capability for water retention. Even during relative dry winter season (180th to 270th day), the water content was N 20%, which is adequate for sustaining the survival of vegetation. The pH of the PCF substrate was within the range of 7.3 to 7.5, which is the ideal pH range for the growth of vegetation (Tang et al., 2013). From the analysis of the nutrient contents of PCF substrate, during the 23-month sampling period, the PCF substrate had N T between 0.34% and 0.44%, P A between 8.6 and 25 mg/kg, K A between 249.3 and 913.3 mg/kg, and organic carbon between 7.5% and 9.2%. The aforemen- tioned values are greater than those of a traditional agriculture eld (Rasul and Thapa, 2004). Therefore, the PCF substrate could provide ad- equate nutrition for the growth of vegetation and no extra fertilizer is needed. After 360 days, the roots could penetrate into rock cracks and form a composite with the substrate and the rock. The vegetation can then absorb nutrition not only from the substrate, but also from the frac- tured rock (biological weathering), which is similar to the growth of vegetation on a natural slope. The cohesion and friction angle of substrate were 13.6 kPa and 25.5°, which are generally higher compared to the values for bare land, report- ed by Li et al. (2013). The eld test found that the substrate reinforced by the wire mash was stable for use as an external soil for ecological res- toration, and no collapse or block falling was observed during the test- ing period. The cohesion and friction angle of the vegetation-substrate complex can reach up to 33.9 kPa to 29.8°, respectively, much higher than the typical values for soil-vegetation complexes (maximum values of 31.4 kPa and 24.4°, respectively) (Li et al., 2013).With increased plant growth, the roots can help reinforce the substrate on the rock surface. With the joint reinforcement by rockbolt, wire mesh, and roots, the veg- etation is able to grow steadily for a long term. Based on the eld verication tests, the optimum PCF substrate with desirable nutrient contents, and excellent physical, chemical, and me- chanical properties, is an appropriate material for ecological restoration of the steep rocky slopes in cold and high-altitude areas.

4.3. Recommendations and error analysis

The ecological substrate in this study presents good adaptability and performance in the eld verication test. However, a few recommenda- tions are made for its applications and the future studies on ecological substrates. First, the substrate is relatively vulnerable for 1 3 days Fig. 8. Penetration of roots in the rock cracks after 360 days. after spraying, and therefore, maintenance is necessary to avoid any

454

H. Xu et al. / Science of the Total Environment 609 (2017) 446455

possible damage and soil loss of the substrate during precipitation. A geotextile is recommended to cover the slope to avoid direct scouring by precipitation and possible desiccation due to solar exposure. Second, for steeper slopes (80°90°), the substrate is likely to slide. We believe that higher CMC contents might provide enough adhesion for the sub- strate on the rocky slope. However, further studies are needed to vali- date this hypothesis. In the context of future studies, a test group with only the base soil is needed as a control to understand the effect of base soil on the growth of vegetation. In addition, at least triplicate tests are needed for the laboratory tests to minimize the testing errors. In this study, triplicate tests were conducted for each of the nine sub- strates in the laboratory tests to determine the optimum PCF sub- strate, and the testing error for germination rate and plant height was controlled under 5%, while the error for pellet degree and eld capacity was controlled under 2%.

5. Conclusions

The PAM-CMC-FA (PCF) substrates with various contents of PAM, CMC, y ash, and W add. were studied using the orthogonal method and ANOVA, for the purpose of developing an optimum PCF substrate. The optimum PCF substrate was then placed on a steep rocky slope in a cold and high-altitude area in Sichuan, China, to investigate the physico-chemical properties, nutrient contents, and mechanical proper- ties in the eld. Based on the results of this study, the following conclu- sions and recommendations for PCF substrates are drawn:

PAM and CMC effectively enhance the pellet degree and eld capacity

of the PCF substrate, while FA and water addition have a stronger im- pact on the growth of vegetation. A substrate with 400 g/m 3 of PAM,

600 g/m 3 of CMC, 1500 g/m 3 of FA, and 50 L/m 3 of W add. is suggested

as the optimum PCF substrate.

The lower bounds for the cohesion and friction angle of pure, opti- mum PCF substrates are 13.6 kPa and 25.5°, respectively, which are

higher than the values for clayey soils, and stable enough for use as an external soil in ecological restoration. The substrate attached well to the wire mesh, and no collapse or peeling was observed. After

360 days, the roots penetrated into the rock cracks to form a com-

pound with the substrate and the rock.

Nutrient contents, i.e., total N, available P, available K, and organics, sustained a desirable concentration during the two hydrological cy- cles. Even after the testing period, the concentration of the nutrition was still higher than that of a typical agricultural eld.

Based the eld verication tests, the suggested PCF substrate exhibits desirable nutrient contents, excellent physical, chemical, and mechan- ical properties, and is an appropriate material for ecological restora- tion on the steep rocky slopes in cold and high-altitude regions.

The ecological substrates developed in this study have the following advantages: a) the components are environmental-friendly and recycled materials, which are easily available in the markets, b) the sub- strate has low cost and can be easily applied in the eld, and c) the sub- strate ful lls the requirements of ecological substrates, with good physico-chemical characteristics and water retention capacity, as well as high adhesion and long-term nutrition supply.

Acknowledgments

This study was nancially supported by the Open Foundation of State Key Laboratory of Geo-hazard Prevention and Geo-environment Protection (Chengdu University of Technology, Grant No. SKLGP2011K014). Their support is gratefully acknowledged. The au- thors are also grateful to Prof. ZHANG Rubo, LI Yonglin, and Dr. DU Yi for their guidance during the eldwork.

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