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- Soil-Landscape Modelling in an Andean Mountain Forest Region in Southern Ecuador (2010)
- Soil-landscapes are diverse and complex due to the interaction of pedogenetic, geo-morphological and hydrological processes. The resulting soil profile reflects the balance of these processes in its properties. Early conceptual models have by now resulted into quantitative soil-landscape models including soil variation and its unpredictability as a key soil attribute. Soils in the Andean mountain rainforest area of southern Ecuador are influenced by hillslope processes and landslides in particular. The lack of knowledge on the distribution of soils and especially physical soil properties to understand slope failure, resulted in the study of this particular soil-landscape by means of statistical models relating soil to terrain attributes, i.e. predictive soil mapping. A 24 terrain classes comprising sampling design for soil investigation in mountainous areas was developed to obtain a representative dataset for statistical modelling. The soils were investigated by 56 profiles and 315 auger points. The Reference Soil Groups (RSGs) Histosol, Stagnosol, Umbrisol, Cambisol, Leptosol and Regosol were identified according to the World Reference Base for Soil Resources (WRB). While soil profiles and auger points were described in their horizon composition, thickness, soil cohesion, bulk density and texture were analysed in soil profiles only. The prediction of soil parameters was carried out with Classification and regression tree (CART) and Random Forest (RF) method. At this, prediction uncertainty was addressed with hundredfold model runs based on different random Jackknife partitions. Problems with the prediction of the RSGs, likely caused by inconsequence within the WRB (absolute and relative values as decision criteria), resulted in the proposal of “incomplete soil classification”, which relates the thickness of the diagnostic WRB horizons to the upper 100 soil centimetres. Histosol and Stagnosol have been distinguished as dominant RSGs within the inves-tigation area. While Histosol probability depended on hydrological parameters; highest Stagnosol probability was predicted on slopes < 40° and above 2146 m a.s.l. Whether the first mineral soil horizon displays stagnic properties or not, likely depends on physical soil properties in addition to terrain parameters. Incomplete soil classification resulted in histic and stagnic soil parts dominating the first 100 cm of the soil volume for most of the research area. Comparing CART and Random Forest (RF) in their model performance to predict topsoil texture and bulk density as well as mineral soil thickness by hundredfold model runs with random Jackknife partitions, RF predictions resulted more powerful. Altitude a.s.l. was the most important predictor for all three soil parameters. Increasing sand/ clay ratios with increasing altitude, on steep slopes and with overland flow distance to the channel network are caused by shallow subsurface flow removing clay particles downslope. Deeper soil layers are not influenced by the same process and therefore showed different texture properties. Terrain parameters could only explain the spatial distribution of topsoil properties to a limited extent, subsoil properties could not be predicted at all. Other parameters that likely influence soil properties within the investigation area are parent material and landslides. Strong evidence was found that topsoil horizons did not form from the bedrock underlying the soil profile. Parent material changes within short distance and often within one soil profile. Landslides have a strong influence on soil-landscape formation in shifting soil and rock material. Soil mechanical and hydrological properties in addition to terrain steepness were hypothesized to be the major factors in causing soil slides. Thus, the factor of safety (FS) was calculated as the soil shear ratio that is necessary to maintain the critical state equilibrium on a potential sliding surface. The depth of the failure plane was assumed at the lower boundary of the stagnic soil layer or complete soil depth, depending on soils being stagnic or non-stagnic. The FS was determined in dependence of soil wetness referring to 0.001, 0.01, 0.1 and 3 mm/h net rainfall rate. Sites with a FS ≥ 1 at 3 mm/h (complete saturation) were classified as unconditionally stable, sites with a FS < 1 at 0.001 mm/h as unconditionally unstable. The latter coincided quite well with landslide scars from a recent aerial photograph.