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Experimental sand burial and precipitation enhancement alter plant and soil carbon allocation in a semi-arid steppe in north China

Ye, Xuehua, Liu, Zhilan, Zhang, Shudong, Gao, Shuqin, Liu, Guofang, Cui, Qinguo, Du, Juan, Huang, Zhenying, Cornelissen, Johannes H.C.
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.651 pp. 3099-3106
carbon sequestration, community structure, ecosystems, field experimentation, global change, plant communities, plant growth, sand, soil organic carbon, soil profiles, steppes, China
Sand burial is a common phenomenon in inland semi-arid and arid areas, affecting plant growth and even plant community structure. Precipitation regime, including the variation of precipitation intensity and frequency, also drives community structure and functions in such areas. However, few studies have focused on the combined effect of sand burial and changed precipitation regime on community function, specifically its role in carbon storage. A 2-yr field experiment with factorial treatments of precipitation (control, slight enhancement and strong enhancement) and sand addition (control and 5 cm sand addition) was conducted to test the responses of plant and soil carbon content in a semi-arid typical steppe in N China. Results showed that sand burial had no significant effect on plant carbon density, but significantly changed the allocation of plant carbon from aboveground to belowground; these responses differed among species and life forms in the community. Precipitation enhancement had no significant effects on plant carbon and its allocation, perhaps because effects of precipitation on plants are due more to precipitation frequency than to precipitation intensity per event. Sand burial and precipitation enhancement decreased soil carbon, especially soil organic carbon, and promoted soil carbon to be distributed deeper down the soil profile. These findings will help to understand how sand deposition affects plant and soil carbon storage and their allocation in plant communities under a changing precipitation regime, and more generally, to understand carbon storage dynamics in early-successional sandy ecosystems in the context of global change.