Plant and Soil

, Volume 443, Issue 1–2, pp 293–306 | Cite as

Changes in soil properties rather than functional gene abundance control carbon and nitrogen mineralization rates during long-term natural revegetation

  • Kerong ZhangEmail author
  • Xinshuai Li
  • Xiaoli Cheng
  • Zhenhua Zhang
  • Quanfa Zhang
Regular Article


Background and aims

Agricultural abandonment has been taken as one of the most widely used strategies for ecological restoration. Abandoned croplands expanded worldwide since the middle of the twentieth century and will increase considerably in the future. Whether agricultural abandonment alters the abundances of soil carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) mineralization genes, and whether these functional genes are linked to alterations in C and N mineralization rates remain unknown.


We took advantage of a well-established chronosequence of nature restoration sites on abandoned croplands which represent a century of vegetation succession in China’s Qinling Mountains, to determine soil C and N mineralization rates, and their relationships with vegetation succession, edaphic characteristics, soil microbial communities, and functional genes based on GeoChip 5.0.


We found that soil C and N mineralization rates, microbial biomass and composition, and the number and abundances of functional genes were significantly affected by vegetation succession following agricultural abandonment. Soil C and N mineralization rates increased by sixfold and threefold, respectively, along the cropland to forest successional gradient. The NO3-N, NH4-N and soil available phosphorus (P) concentrations were important factors associated with the C and N mineralization genes. The shifts in edaphic environments (i.e., soil moisture, cation exchange capacity, and C/P ratio), vegetation-derived substrates (i.e., soil organic C and N), and soil microbial composition (i.e., Fungi/Bacteria ratio, amounts of Gram-negative bacteria, Actinomycetes, and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi), rather than the abundances of functional genes involved in mineralization processes, controlled soil C and N mineralization rates along the long-term vegetation successional gradient.


Abandoning cropland for natural succession could facilitate the recuperation of soil C and N processes and alter soil microbial composition and functional genes. The abundances of microbial functional genes are less important than previously expected in regulating soil C and N mineralization rates.


GeoChip Abandoned croplands Land-use change Vegetation succession Carbon cycling Soil microbes 



This research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31770562, 31470499, 3192200779), Youth Innovation Promotion Association CAS (2018374), and the Strategic Priority Research Programs of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDA05060500 and XDB15010200). We are grateful for the comments and constructive suggestions from the editors and anonymous reviewers.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kerong Zhang
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Xinshuai Li
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Xiaoli Cheng
    • 1
  • Zhenhua Zhang
    • 4
  • Quanfa Zhang
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.CAS Key Laboratory of Aquatic Botany and Watershed Ecology, Wuhan Botanical GardenChinese Academy of SciencesWuhanPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Center of Plant Ecology, Core Botanical GardenChinese Academy of SciencesWuhanPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingPeople’s Republic of China
  4. 4.Foping National Nature ReserveFoping ShaanxiPeople’s Republic of China

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