, Volume 88, Issue 1, pp 73–88 | Cite as

Effects of wind erosion on the spatial heterogeneity of soil nutrients in two desert grassland communities

  • Junran LiEmail author
  • Gregory S. Okin
  • Lorelei Alvarez
  • Howard Epstein
Original Paper


Wind is known to affect the spatial heterogeneity of soil resources in arid and semiarid systems, but multi-year, quantified observations are largely absent. We studied the effects of wind erosion on the spatial distribution of soil organic carbon (SOC) and other soil nutrients at the Jornada Experimental Range, in southern New Mexico. Enhanced wind erosion was encouraged by grass cover reduction in a Sporobolus-mesquite dominated site (SM) and a Bouteloua-mesquite dominated site (BM). The scale and magnitude of spatial dependence for the soil analytes were quantified using geostatistical analyses. Results of this study show that soil organic matter related analytes such as SOC, TN, Navail, and SO4 are among the first to be eroded and redistributed; cations such as Ca2+ and Mg2+ may not be removed and redistributed significantly; and other ions such as K+, Na+ and Cl showed no discernible pattern of change. Geostatistics show that wind appeared to increase the scale of spatial autocorrelation, but decrease the scale of spatial dependence of most soil analytes over 2–3 windy seasons. In the wind enhanced plot of the SM site, up to 99% of the spatial dependence of SOC was autocorrelated at the distance of 1.45 m before the initiation of wind erosion, but the spatial dependence dropped significantly to only 60% at a larger autocorrelation distance of 2.76 m after three windy seasons. Similar but less significant changes were observed for SOC in the BM site. Despite the differential effects of wind on the soil analytes, we conclude that the overall results of wind on the grass cover reduction plots are the disappearance of small, strong fertile islands, which may be related to grasses; and the reinforcement of large fertile islands, which are likely related to mesquite shrubs. In addition, the change of the spatial patterns of SOC and other soil nutrients induced by enhanced wind erosion may persist and reinforce soil islands associated with shrubs, thus allowing a positive feedback for further desertification in this arid grassland.


Spatial heterogeneity Soil nutrients Soil carbon Soil nitrogen Wind erosion Geostatistics 



This research was supported by the National Science Foundation (Grant DEB-0316320) and Jornada Basin LTER project (Grant DEB-0080412). We thank Jacquie Hui, Mike Abrams, Emilee Carpenter, Melissa Castiano, and Tom Zhao for their assistance in experimental set up, sample collection, and laboratory analysis. Special appreciation is given to the headquarters of the USDA-ARS JER staff Kris Havstad, Eddie Garcia, Rob Dunlap, David Thatcher and John Anderson, who provided invaluable assistance with field work during this study. Associate editor Dr. Holm Tiessen and two anonymous reviewers made valuable comments that significantly improved the strength and clarity of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Junran Li
    • 1
    Email author
  • Gregory S. Okin
    • 2
  • Lorelei Alvarez
    • 1
  • Howard Epstein
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

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