Soil erosion and sedimentation are massive environmental problems. Every year, poor land management causes 75 billion tons of top soil to erode from land, which then runs into streams, rivers, lakes and oceans where it smothers life.

A common management strategy to control erosion is to maintain vegetative cover -- in fields, along the banks of streams, and around lakes to maintain stability of soils. The Cardinale lab has extended these management strategies by showing that biological communities of both plants and animals can be engineered to maximize erosion control, and minimize the loss of sediments from watersheds. For example, our work has shown that enhancing plant diversity of native vegetation along streambanks creates complex rooting systems that help reduce the chance of bank sloughing and failure. Furthermore, we have shown that small insects that live on the bottom of streams can bind rocks together as they spin nets to construct their homes, and these nets significantly reduce the probability of streambed erosion during floods.

Example publications

Albertson, L. K., L. S. Skylar, S. D. Cooper, and B. J. Cardinale. 2019. Aquatic macroinvertebrates stabilize gravel bed sediment: A test using silk net-spinning caddisflies in semi-natural river channels. PLoS One 14:e0209087 (doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0209087).

Allen, D. C., B. J. Cardinale, and T. Wynn-Thompson. 2016. Plant biodiversity effects in reducing fluvial erosion are limited to low species richness. Ecology, 97:17-24 (doi:10.1890/15-0800.1).




  • Department Head, Ecosystem Science and Management