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Effect of grassland afforestation on soil N mineralization and its response to soil texture and slope position

Yao, Yufei, Shao, Mingan, Fu, Xiaoli, Wang, Xiang, Wei, Xiaorong
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2019 v.276 pp. 64-72
Caragana korshinskii, afforestation, ammonification, ammonium, clay soils, ecosystems, grasslands, land use change, landscapes, legumes, mineralization, nitrates, nitrification, nitrogen, nitrogen content, nitrogen cycle, planting, sandy soils, shrublands, shrubs, soil texture, China
Grassland afforestation, which is a major form of land-use change, has expanded considerably in the last few decades. However, the effect of conversion from grassland to shrubland on soil nitrogen (N) cycling and availability with regard to soil textures and slope positions is unclear. This lack of clarity has hindered our understanding of how grassland afforestation influences soil N availability and transformation on a larger spatial scale. In this study, we compared the net N mineralization rates and mineral N concentrations in soils from native grassland and under legume shrub (Caragana korshinskii Kom.) with contrasting soil textures (sandy-loam vs. loamy-sand) and slope positions (upper vs. lower) in the northern region of China’s Loess Plateau. The objective of this study is to understand how soil texture and slope position regulate the response of soil N cycling to grassland afforestation. The results showed that the concentrations of soil nitrate and total mineral N and the rates of net nitrification and mineralization were higher in soils under shrub (0.64 ± 0.10 g N m−2, 1.01 ± 0.11 g N m−2, 23.19 ± 5.22 mg N m−2 d-1 and 22.07 ± 5.44 mg N m−2 d-1) than in grassland (0.22 ± 0.03 g N m−2, 0.56 ± 0.04 g N m−2, 1.48 ± 1.51 mg N m−2 d-1 and 1.36 ± 1.96 mg N m−2 d-1). However, soil ammonium concentration and net ammonification rate were not affected by grassland afforestation. The effect of afforestation on nitrate and total mineral N concentrations was greater in the lower slope than in the upper slope but was similar between the sandy-loam and loamy-sand soils. The effect of this land-use change on net nitrification and mineralization rates varied with soil texture and slope position, with greater effects in the upper slope than in the lower slope in more clayey soils, but with the opposite influencing pattern in more sandy soils. These results suggested that planting C. korshinskii in grassland ecosystems increased soil N mineralization and availability. More importantly, soil texture and slope position should be considered when assessing the effects of grassland afforestation in complex landscape conditions.