Plant and Soil

, Volume 295, Issue 1–2, pp 137–150 | Cite as

Spatial heterogeneity of soil nitrogen in a subtropical forest in China

Regular Article


Spatial variability of soil total nitrogen (N), available N (KCl extractable NH 4 + and NO 3 ), and spatial patterns of N mineralization and nitrification at a stand scale were characterized with geostatistical and univariate analysis. Two extensive soil spatial samplings were conducted in an evergreen broadleaf forest in Sichuan province, southwestern China in June and August 2000. In a study area of 90 × 105 m2, three soil samples were collected from each 5 × 5 m2 plot (n = 378) in June and August, and were analyzed for total N and available N contents. Net N mineralization and nitrification were measured by in situ core incubation and the rates were estimated based on the difference of NH 4 + and NO 3 contents between the two sampling dates. Total N, NH 4 + , and NO 3 were all spatially structured with different semivariogram ranges (from high to low: NH 4 + , NO 3 , and total N). The semivariograms of mineralization and nitrification were not as spatially structured as available N. NH 4 + was the dominant soil inorganic N form in the system. Both NH 4 + and NO 3 affected spatial patterns of soil available N, but their relative importance switched in August, probably due to high nitrification as indicated by greatly increased soil NO 3 content. High spatial auto-correlations (>0.7) were found between available N and NH4+, available N and NO 3 on both sampling dates, as well as total N measurements between both sampling dates. Although significant, the spatial auto-correlation between NH 4 + and NO 3 were generally low. Topography had significant but low correlations with mineralization (r = −0.16) and nitrification (r = −0.14), while soil moisture did not. The large nugget values of the calculated semivariograms and high-semivariance values, particularly for mineralization and nitrification, indicate that some fine scale (<5 m) variability may lie below the threshold for detection in this study.


Available N Heterogeneity Spatial pattern Total N 



The study was funded by the State Key Basic Research and Development Plan of China, National Science Foundation (2000046802-04). We appreciate Dr. Jianguo (Jingle) Wu, Dr. Xinyuan (Ben) Wu, and Dr. Zhengquan Wang for their valuable comments for the earlier draft. We thank Mr. Michael Tuite from Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia for proofreading this manuscript. The strength and clarity of this manuscript were significantly improved by the comments from two anonymous reviewers.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lixin Wang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Paul P. Mou
    • 3
  • Jianhui Huang
    • 1
  • Jin Wang
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Laboratory of Quantitative Vegetation Ecology, Institute of Botany The Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA
  3. 3.College of Life SciencesBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina

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