Articles | Volume 14, issue 8
Research article
27 Apr 2017
Research article |  | 27 Apr 2017

Alteration of soil carbon and nitrogen pools and enzyme activities as affected by increased soil coarseness

Ruzhen Wang, Linyou Lü, Courtney A. Creamer, Feike A. Dijkstra, Heyong Liu, Xue Feng, Guoqing Yu, Xingguo Han, and Yong Jiang

Abstract. Soil coarseness decreases ecosystem productivity, ecosystem carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) stocks, and soil nutrient contents in sandy grasslands subjected to desertification. To gain insight into changes in soil C and N pools, microbial biomass, and enzyme activities in response to soil coarseness, a field experiment was conducted by mixing native soil with river sand in different mass proportions: 0, 10, 30, 50, and 70 % sand addition. Four years after establishing plots and 2 years after transplanting, soil organic C and total N concentrations decreased with increased soil coarseness down to 32.2 and 53.7 % of concentrations in control plots, respectively. Soil microbial biomass C (MBC) and N (MBN) declined with soil coarseness down to 44.1 and 51.9 %, respectively, while microbial biomass phosphorus (MBP) increased by as much as 73.9 %. Soil coarseness significantly decreased the enzyme activities of β-glucosidase, N-acetyl-glucosaminidase, and acid phosphomonoesterase by 20.2–57.5 %, 24.5–53.0 %, and 22.2–88.7 %, used for C, N and P cycling, respectively. However, observed values of soil organic C, dissolved organic C, total dissolved N, available P, MBC, MBN, and MBP were often significantly higher than would be predicted from dilution effects caused by the sand addition. Soil coarseness enhanced microbial C and N limitation relative to P, as indicated by the ratios of β-glucosidase and N-acetyl-glucosaminidase to acid phosphomonoesterase (and MBC : MBP and MBN : MBP ratios). Enhanced microbial recycling of P might alleviate plant P limitation in nutrient-poor grassland ecosystems that are affected by soil coarseness. Soil coarseness is a critical parameter affecting soil C and N storage and increases in soil coarseness can enhance microbial C and N limitation relative to P, potentially posing a threat to plant productivity in sandy grasslands suffering from desertification.

Short summary
Soil coarseness is one of the principle constrains on terrestrial net primary productivity, ecosystem health, and regional economy. In a semi-arid sandy grassland, we conducted a field experiment to investigate the effect of soil coarseness on soil carbon pools, microbial biomass C, N, and P, and C-, N- and P-cycling enzyme activities of β-glucosidase, N-acetyl-glucosaminidase, and acid phosphomonoesterase by mixing soil with sand in different proportions of 0, 10, 30, 50, and 70 %.
Final-revised paper