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The pattern between nitrogen mineralization and grazing intensities in an Inner Mongolian typical steppe

Xu, Yuqing, Li, Linghao, Wang, Qibing, Chen, Quansheng, Cheng, Weixin
Plant and soil 2007 v.300 no.1-2 pp. 289-300
ammonification, biogeochemical cycles, ecosystems, energy flow, field experimentation, grazing intensity, growing season, mineralization, nitrification, nitrogen, normal distribution, sheep, soil water, steppes, temperature, China
Ungulate grazing is known to play a crucial role in regulating energy flow and nutrient cycling in grassland ecosystems. However, previous studies of the effect of grazing on soil N dynamics have showed controversial results. Some studies indicate that grazing stimulates N mineralization while others report that grazing suppresses N mineralization. In order to reconcile these contrasting results, we investigated the response pattern of nitrogen transformation to multiple grazing intensities in an Inner Mongolian steppe. In our study, we measured net nitrogen mineralization rates and nitrification rates during a whole growing season in a 17-year field experiment that had five grazing intensities (0.00, 1.33, 2.67, 4.00 and 5.33 sheep ha-¹). Primarily because of changes in temperature and moisture conditions, net N mineralization rates varied substantially during the growing season with higher values occurring in late July. No consistent differences in net N mineralization rates were observed between grazing intensity treatments at the monthly time scale. Compared to mineralization rates, net nitrification rates were generally low with slightly higher values occurring in late July and late August. Ungulate grazing stimulated the cumulative net N transformations (mineralization, nitrification and ammonification) at the annual time scale, and the most stimulation occurred at a moderate grazing intensity of 4.00 sheep ha-¹, whereas the highest grazing intensity of 5.33 sheep ha-¹ and the lighter grazing intensity of 1.33 sheep ha-¹ stimulated less. The general response of net N mineralization to grazing intensity gradient is roughly in the form of a normal distribution at the annual time scale. Our study demonstrated that grazing intensity in concert with soil moisture and temperature conditions imposed significant controls on soil N transformation and availability in this Inner Mongolian steppe.