Differential magnitude of rhizosphere effects on soil aggregation at three stages of subtropical secondary forest successions

  • Ruiqiang Liu
  • Xuhui ZhouEmail author
  • Jiawei Wang
  • Junjiong Shao
  • Yuling Fu
  • Chao Liang
  • Enrong Yan
  • Xiaoyong Chen
  • Xihua Wang
  • Shahla Hosseini Bai
Regular Article


Background and aims

Roots and their rhizosphere considerably influence soil structure by regulating soil aggregate formation and stabilization. This study aimed to examine the rhizosphere effects on soil aggregation and explore potential mechanisms along secondary forest successions.


Effects of roots and their rhizosphere on soil aggregation in two subtropical secondary forest successions were examined by separating soils into rhizosphere and bulk soils. Soil aggregate mean weight diameter (MWD), soil organic carbon (SOC), soil nutrients, and fine-root traits were simultaneously measured.


Soil aggregate MWD increased significantly in the bulk soils along secondary forest successions, but did not differ in the rhizosphere soils. Rhizosphere effects on soil aggregate MWD (i.e., root-induced differences between the rhizosphere and bulk soils) were thus significantly higher at the early-successional stage of subtropical forest with low soil fertility than those at the late stages with high fertility. Rhizosphere significantly increased SOC and soil total nitrogen (TN) throughout the entire secondary forest successions, which was nonlinearly correlated with soil aggregate MWD. Principal components regression analysis showed that SOC was the primary abiotic factor and positively correlated with soil aggregate MWD. As for biotic factors, fine-root length density and N concentration were two important root traits having significant effects on soil aggregate stability. An improved conceptual framework was developed to advance our understanding of soil aggregation and rhizosphere effects, highlighting the roles of soil fertility (i.e., SOC and available nutrients), root traits, and forest age in driving soil aggregation.


Impacts of root-derived organic compounds inputs to rhizosphere on soil aggregation were stronger at the early-successional stage of subtropical forest than those at the late stages. This succession-specific pattern in rhizosphere effects largely resulted from the nonlinear relationships between soil aggregate MWD and SOC concentration with a plateau at high SOC. Incorporating the SOC-dependent rhizosphere effects on biogeochemical cycle into Earth system models might improve the prediction of forest soil C dynamics.


Forest chronosequence Forest age Fine-root traits Soil aggregate stability Soil organic carbon 



The authors thank the section editor and two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and suggestions. This research was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 31770559, 31370489, 31600387), Innovation Program of Shanghai Municipal Education Commission (No. 14ZZ053), the Program for Professor of Special Appointment (Eastern Scholar) at Shanghai Institutions of Higher Learning, “Thousand Young Talents” Program in China.

Supplementary material

11104_2019_3935_MOESM1_ESM.docx (222 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 221 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tiantong National Field Station for Forest Ecosystem Research, Shanghai Key Lab for Urban Ecological Processes and Eco-Restoration, School of Ecological and Environmental SciencesEast China Normal UniversityShanghaiChina
  2. 2.Center for Global Change and Ecological ForecastingEast China Normal UniversityShanghaiChina
  3. 3.Key Laboratory of Forest Ecology and Management, Institute of Applied EcologyChinese Academy of SciencesShenyangChina
  4. 4.Faculty of Science, Health, Education and EngineeringUniversity of the Sunshine CoastMaroochydoreAustralia
  5. 5.School of Medical and Applied SciencesCentral Queensland UniversityBundabergAustralia

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