, Volume 82, Issue 2, pp 127–138 | Cite as

Soil carbon and nitrogen stores and storage potential as affected by land-use in an agro-pastoral ecotone of northern China

  • Zhiyong Zhou
  • Osbert J. Sun
  • Jianhui Huang
  • Linghao Li
  • Ping Liu
  • Xingguo Han
Original Paper


Equilibrium carbon stock is the result of a balance between inputs and outflows to the pool. Changes in land-use are likely to alter such balance, resulting in different carbon stores under different land-use types in addition to the impacts of global climate change. In an agro-pastoral ecotone of Inner Mongolia, northern China, we investigated productivity and belowground carbon and nitrogen stores under six different types of land-uses, namely free grazing (FG), grazing exclusion (GE), mowing (MW), corn plantation (CP), fallow (FL), and alfalfa pasture (AP), and their impacts on litter and fine roots in semiarid grassland ecosystems. We found that there were great variations in aboveground net primary production (ANPP) across the six land-use types, with CP having markedly high ANPP; the FG had significantly reduced soil organic carbon (SOC) and nitrogen stores (SON) to 100 cm depth compared with all other types of land uses, while very little litter accumulation was found on sites of the FG and CP. The top 20 cm of soils accounted for about 80% of the root carbon and nitrogen, with very little roots being found below 50 cm. About 60% of SOC and SON were stored in the top 30 cm layer. Land-use change altered the inputs of organic matters, thus affecting SOC and SON stores accordingly; the MW and GE sites had 59 and 56% more SOC and 61% more SON than the FG. Our estimation suggested that restoring severely degraded and overgrazed grasslands could potentially increase SOC and SON stores by more than 55%; conversion from the native grasses to alfalfa could potentially double the aboveground biomass production, and further increase SOC and SON stores by more than 20%. Our study demonstrated significant carbon and nitrogen storage potential of the agro-pastoral ecotone of northern China through land-use changes and improved management in the context of mitigating global climate change.


Agro-pastoral ecotone Grassland Land-use Productivity SOC SON 



This research was partially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (30330150 & 30521002), and a “Talent Recruitment” fund from Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences to OJS. We are grateful to the Duolun Restoration Ecological Experimentation and Demonstration Station for access permission to the study sites and research facilities. We wish to thank Bai WM, Gao YZ, Song SH, Tian JQ, Wang GM, Yan ZD, Yuan ZY, Zhao HT, Zhao W, Zhu L and Xu WT for their helps with field sampling and data collection, and Chen QS for technical advice on statistical analysis.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zhiyong Zhou
    • 1
    • 2
  • Osbert J. Sun
    • 1
  • Jianhui Huang
    • 1
  • Linghao Li
    • 1
  • Ping Liu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Xingguo Han
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratory of Quantitative Vegetation Ecology, Institute of BotanyThe Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

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