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Spatiotemporal variations and factors affecting soil nitrogen in the purple hilly area of Southwest China during the 1980s and the 2010s

Li, Qiquan, Luo, Youlin, Wang, Changquan, Li, Bing, Zhang, Xin, Yuan, Dagang, Gao, Xuesong, Zhang, Hao
The Science of the total environment 2016 v.547 pp. 173-181
agroecosystems, basins, data collection, fertilizer application, grasslands, land use, nitrification, nitrogen, nitrogen content, nitrogen fertilizers, pollution, soil, spatial variation, temporal variation, topography, woodlands, China
Determination of soil nitrogen distributions and the factors affecting them is critical for nitrogen fertilizer management and prevention of nitrogen pollution. In this paper, the spatiotemporal variations of soil nitrogen and the relative importance of their affecting factors were analysed at a county scale in the purple hilly area of the mid-Sichuan Basin in Southwest China based on soil data collected in 1981 and 2012. Statistical results showed that soil total nitrogen (TN) increased from 0.88gkg−1 in 1981 to 1.12gkg−1 in 2012, whereas available nitrogen (AN) decreased from 84.22mgkg−1 to 74.35mgkg−1. In particular, AN showed a significant decrease in agricultural ecosystems but remained stable in woodland and grassland. Correspondingly, most of the study area exhibited increased TN content and decreased AN content in space. The nugget/sill ratios of TN and AN increased from 0.419 to 0.608 and from 0.733 to 0.790, whereas spatial correlation distances decreased from 12.00km to 9.50km and from 9.50km to 9.00km, respectively, suggesting that the spatial dependence of soil nitrogen became weaker and that the extrinsic factors played increasingly important roles in affecting the soil nitrogen distribution. Soil group and land use type were the two dominant factors in 1981, followed by topographic factors, vegetation coverage and parent material, whereas land use type became the most important factor in 2012, and the relative contribution of topographic factors declined markedly. The results suggested that land use related to cultivation management and fertilizer application was the decisive factor for soil nitrogen change. The increase in TN content and the decrease in AN content over the study period also suggested improper use of nitrogen fertilizer, which can result in nitrogen loss through increasing nitrification rates. Thus, effective measures should be taken to increase the uptake rate of nitrogen and prevent nitrogen pollution.