Biology and Fertility of Soils

, Volume 48, Issue 4, pp 393–400 | Cite as

Impacts of altitude and position on the rates of soil nitrogen mineralization and nitrification in alpine meadows on the eastern Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau, China

  • Shihu Zhang
  • Dongdong Chen
  • Dashuai Sun
  • Xiangtao Wang
  • Jeffrey L. Smith
  • Guozhen Du
Original Paper


Alpine and tundra grasslands constitute 7% world terrestrial land but 13% of the total global soil carbon (C) and 10% of the global soil nitrogen (N). Under the current climate change scenario of global warming, these grasslands will contribute significantly to the changing global C and N cycles. It is important to understand the controlling factors on soil N cycling in these ecosystems. To evaluate climate effects on N cycling, soil N mineralization and nitrification rates (0–15 cm) were measured using an in situ closed-top tube incubation across altitudes and positions from 2006 to 2008 in alpine meadows. The data indicated that soil N mineralization and nitrification rates decreased with increasing altitude, but only significantly (P < 0.05) between the lowest and the two higher altitudes. Soil N mineralization and nitrification rates of south-facing slopes were higher than north-facing slopes at each altitude. This suggests that soil temperature and soil water content (WC) were the controlling factors for soil N mineralization and nitrification rates across altitude with soil WC being the most important factors over positions. Soil nitrification rate depended on soil N mineralization rate, and both rates may increase in response to regional warming of the alpine meadow.


Carbon Nitrogen Mineralization rate Nitrification Alpine meadow Altitude Position Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau 



We would like to thank Xiaoming Shi, Zhongling Yang, and Duobing Wang at the laboratory and Xianhui Zhou, Miaojun Ma, Gaolin Wu , Shujun Wen, and Yanrong Tan for their help in the field. Professor Neil C. Turner is thanked for his help with English and Xuetong Zhang for the map making of the studied sites. The study was supported by the Key Project of the National Natural Science Foundation of China granted to Guozhen Du, No. 40930533.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shihu Zhang
    • 1
  • Dongdong Chen
    • 1
  • Dashuai Sun
    • 1
  • Xiangtao Wang
    • 1
  • Jeffrey L. Smith
    • 2
  • Guozhen Du
    • 1
  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Arid and Grassland Ecology of Ministry of EducationLanzhou UniversityLanzhouPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Soil Biochemistry USDA-ARS, Washington State UniversityPullmanUSA

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