Alteration of soil carbon and nitrogen pools and enzyme activities as affected by increased soil coarseness
- 1State Engineering Laboratory of Soil Nutrient Management, Institute of Applied Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shenyang 110016, China
- 2Institute of Sandy Land Improvement and Utilization, Liaoning Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Fuxin 123000, China
- 3US Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA 94025-3561, USA
- 4Centre for Carbon, Water and Food, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
- 5State Key Laboratory of Vegetation and Environmental Change, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100093, China
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.