Plant and Soil

, Volume 374, Issue 1–2, pp 223–232 | Cite as

Distribution of soil phytolith-occluded carbon in the Chinese Loess Plateau and its implications for silica–carbon cycles

  • XinXin Zuo
  • HouYuan Lu
  • ZhaoYan Gu
Regular Article


Background and aims

Plants absorb and carry soluble silica from soils and then deposit SiO2 · nH2O within themselves producing amorphous silica particles known as phytoliths. Trace amount of organic carbon is occluded during phytolith formation referred to as phytolith-occluded carbon (PhytOC). This carbon fraction has been recognized as an important way of carbon biosequestration. Previous studies have investigated the PhytOC contents of many crop plants and their contribution to global carbon sink. However, the PhytOC in soil is less focused. In this study, we investigated the distribution of soil PhytOC in the Chinese Loess Plateau (CLP).


Twenty-six soil profiles were collected in the Chinese Loess Plateau. A wet oxidation method was used for phytolith extraction. Occluded carbon was determined by element analyzer.


Our results showed that the soil PhytOC density (SPCD) ranged from 0.757 to 23.110 g/m2 among different soil profiles. The SPCD of profiles in the Southern CLP was generally higher than that in the Northern CLP. It was estimated that 5.35 Mt of PhytOC was stored in the upper soil of the CLP. We also estimated the annual phytolith flux into the Yellow River from the CLP by soil erosion and about 2.5 Mt of phytoliths eroded and transported into rivers per year.


Our study indicated that PhytOC was one of the potential biosequestration way and phytoliths had an important influence on biogeochemical cycle of silica. Our results suggested that the soil PhytOC was mainly influenced by different plant communities.


Soil phytoliths Carbon sequestration PhytOC Silica cycle Chinese Loess Plateau 



We thank Dr. Han Jingtai and Sun Huiguo for assistance with the carbon measuring, Dr. Li Fengjiang and Yu Yanyan for helpful discussions, and Dr. Li Fei for producing several of the figures. Special thanks go to Professor Song Zhaoliang for improving an earlier version of this manuscript and Professor Shen Caiming for his valuable suggestions and improving of the English. This work was supported jointly by the National Science Foundation of China (41230104), the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA05130602), and the Key Project of Scientific and Technical Supporting Programs (no. 2010BAK67B02, 2013BAK08B02).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Cenozoic Geology and Environment, Institute of Geology and GeophysicsChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

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