Potential of two submontane broadleaved species (Acer opalus, Quercus pubescens) to reveal spatiotemporal patterns of rockfall activity

Abstract : Long-term records of rockfalls have proven to be scarce and typically incomplete, especially in increasingly urbanized areas where inventories are largely absent and the risk associated with rockfall events rises proportionally with urbanization. On forested slopes, tree-ring analyses may help to fill this gap, as they have been demonstrated to provide annually-resolved data on past rockfall activity over long periods. Yet, the reconstruction of rockfall chronologies has been hampered in the past by the paucity of studies that include broadleaved tree species, which are, in fact, quite common in various rockfall-prone environments. In this study, we test the sensitivity of two common, yet unstudied, broadleaved species — Quercus pubescens Willd. (Qp) and Acer opalus Mill. (Ao) — to record rockfall impacts. The approach is based on a systematic mapping of trees and the counting of visible scars on the stem surface of both species. Data are presented from a site in the Vercors massif (French Alps) where rocks are frequently detached from Valanginian limestone and marl cliffs. We compare recurrence interval maps obtained from both species and from two different sets of tree structures (i.e., single trees vs. coppice stands) based on Cohen's k coefficient and the mean absolute error. A total of 1230 scars were observed on the stem surface of 847 A. opalus and Q. pubescens trees. Both methods yield comparable results on the spatial distribution of relative rockfall activity with similar downslope decreasing recurrence intervals. Yet recurrence intervals vary significantly according to tree species and tree structure. The recurrence interval observed on the stem surface of Q. pubescens exceeds that of A. opalus by N20 years in the lower part of the studied plot. Similarly, the recurrence interval map derived from A. opalus coppice stands, dominant at the stand scale, does not exhibit a clear spatial pattern. Differences between species may be explained by the bark thickness of Q. pubescens, which has been demonstrated to grow at twice the rate of A. opalus, thus constituting a mechanical barrier that is able to buffer low energy rockfalls and thus can avoid damage to the underlying tissues. The reasons for differences between tree structures are related to the clustered coppice-specific spatial stem distribution in clumps that could result on one hand in bigger gaps between clumps, which in turn decreases the probability of tree impacts for traveling blocks. On the other hand, data also indicate that several scars on the bark of coppice stands may stem from the same impact and thus may lead to an overestimation of rockfall activity.
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Adrien Favillier, Jérôme Lopez-Saez, Christophe Corona, Daniel Trappmann, David Toe, et al.. Potential of two submontane broadleaved species (Acer opalus, Quercus pubescens) to reveal spatiotemporal patterns of rockfall activity. Geomorphology, Elsevier, 2015, 246, pp.35-47. ⟨10.1016/j.geomorph.2015.06.010⟩. ⟨hal-01501581⟩



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