Changes in soil organic carbon and total nitrogen in croplands converted to walnut-based agroforestry systems and orchards in southeastern Loess Plateau of China

  • Sen Lu
  • Ping MengEmail author
  • Jinsong Zhang
  • Changjun Yin
  • Shiyou Sun


Limited information is available on the effects of agroforestry system practices on soil properties in the Loess Plateau of China. Over the last decade, a vegetation restoration project has been conducted in this area by converting cropland into tree-based agroforestry systems and orchards to combat soil erosion and degradation. The objective of the present study was to determine the effects of land use conversion on soil organic carbon and total nitrogen in southeastern Loess Plateau. The experiment included three treatments: walnut intercropping system (AF), walnut orchard (WO), and traditional cropland (CR). After 7 years of continual management, soil samples were collected at 0–10, 10–30, and 30–50-cm depths for three treatments, and soil organic carbon (SOC) and total nitrogen (TN) were measured. Results showed that compared with the CR and AF treatments, WO treatment decreased both SOC and TN concentrations in the 0–50-cm soil profile. However, similar patterns of SOC and TN concentrations were observed in the AF and CR treatments across the entire profile. The SOC stocks at 0–50-cm depth were 5.42, 5.52, and 4.67 kg m−2 for CR, AF, and WO treatments, respectively. The calculated TN stocks at 0–50-cm depth were 0.63, 0.62, and 0.57 kg m−2 for CR, AF, and WO treatments, respectively. This result demonstrated that the stocks of SOC and TN in WO were clearly lower than those of AF and CR and that the walnut-based agroforestry system was more beneficial than walnut monoculture in terms of SOC and TN sequestration. Owing to the short-term intercropping practice, the changes in SOC and TN stocks were slight in AF compared with those in CR. However, a significant decrease in SOC and TN stocks was observed during the conversion of cropland to walnut orchard after 7 years of management. We also found that land use types had no significant effect on soil C/N ratio. These findings demonstrated that intercropping between walnut rows can potentially maintain more SOC and TN stocks than walnut monoculture and that agroforestry is a sustainable management pattern for vegetation restoration in the Loess Plateau area.


Soil organic carbon Total nitrogen Agroforestry systems Walnut orchard Land use change 



This study was funded by the Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 31170409), the Basic Research Fund of RIF (No. RIF2014-09), the Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 41371240), and the CFERN & GENE Award Funds on Ecological Paper. The authors gratefully thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments in improving the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sen Lu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ping Meng
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Jinsong Zhang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Changjun Yin
    • 1
  • Shiyou Sun
    • 3
  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Tree Breeding and Cultivation of the State Forestry Administration, Research Institute of Forestry, Chinese Academy of ForestryBeijingChina
  2. 2.Collaborative Innovation Center of Sustaintable Forestry in Southern ChinaNanjing Forestry UniversityNanjingChina
  3. 3.Institute of Agro-Resources and EnvironmentHebei Academy of Agriculture and Forestry SciencesShijiazhuangChina

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