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Changes in soil nitrogen stocks following vegetation restoration in a typical karst catchment

Liu, Xin, Zhang, Wei, Wu, Min, Ye, Yingying, Wang, Kelin, Li, Dejun
Land degradation & development 2019 v.30 no.1 pp. 60-72
bedrock, bulk density, calcium, carbon, carbon nitrogen ratio, ecosystems, forests, karsts, land restoration, nitrogen, nitrogen content, pastures, soil depth, structural equation modeling, tillage, watersheds, China
Soil nitrogen (N) accumulation enhances carbon (C) sequestration and subsequently the restoration of degraded ecosystems, but the changes in soil N properties after vegetation restoration in such ecosystems are poorly understood. We collected data from 358 fixed points in the karst catchment in China to determine the trends, magnitude, and mechanisms of soil N sequestration after 10 years of revegetation. The revegetation types were tillage fields that were abandoned or were converted to pasture, planted forest, or converted to mixed pasture and forest and pasture lands that were abandoned (P_Aban) or converted to mixed pasture and forest (P_Mix). The changes in soil N density (g m⁻²) over time were insignificant, and only P_Aban, P_ Mix, and the overall catchment experienced significant increases in soil N concentration (g kg⁻¹). Structural equation modeling indicated that bedrock exposure affected the change in soil N concentration (∆NC) and the soil N sequestration value (∆ND) via affecting the change in soil C concentration, by directly affecting bulk density, soil depth, and Ca²⁺. The soil C:N ratio increased significantly, and the increase in soil N was slower than that of C, suggesting a decoupling of soil C and N accumulation in the initial stage of revegetation. ∆ND was significantly related to the change in soil C:N ratio, indicating that the coupling between soil C and N may be constrained by insufficient soil N sequestration during revegetation. These findings suggest that the restoration of degraded karst ecosystems requires an increase in soil N input early during vegetation restoration.