Plant and Soil

, Volume 443, Issue 1–2, pp 337–351 | Cite as

Decoupling of plant and soil metal nutrients as affected by nitrogen addition in a meadow steppe

  • Xue Feng
  • Ruzhen WangEmail author
  • Qiang Yu
  • Yanzhuo Cao
  • Yuge Zhang
  • Lijuan YangEmail author
  • Feike A. Dijkstra
  • Yong Jiang
Regular Article



Determining base cation and trace element dynamics in plant-soil systems is important for sustainable utilization of grasslands affected by global ecosystem nitrogen (N) enrichment.


A 4-year field experiment was conducted with urea addition rates of 0, 2.5, 5, 7.5, 10, 15, 20, and 30 g N m−2 yr.−1 to investigate the dynamics of base cations (Ca, Mg, K) and trace elements (Fe, Mn, Cu and Zn) in soil and a dominant species Leymus chinensis in a semi-arid meadow grassland of northeast China.


Soil showed a significant decrease in exchangeable Ca and increases in extractable Fe, Mn and Zn concentrations, while plant Ca and Zn remained unchanged and plant Fe decreased with N addition. For both plant and soil compartments, stoichiometric ratios of trace elements were more variable than base cations, mainly driven by plant physiological requirements, plant nutrient uptake intensity, and elemental interactions. Excessive soil Mn mobilization and plant uptake affected concentrations of Fe, Cu and Zn in the plant and even inhibited Fe absorption (antagonistic interactions), resulting in a plant Fe:Mn ratio lower than 1.5 with high N addition rates, indicating Mn phytotoxicity or Fe deficiency. As a result, plant elemental stoichiometry did not remain homeostatic and was even more variable than in soil.


Our results provided direct evidence of decoupled plant-soil elemental responses, stricter homeostatic control of macronutrients than trace elements in plants, and altered stoichiometric variability in the plant-soil system, and suggest that N addition enhances metal nutrient imbalances in the meadow steppe grassland.


Nitrogen deposition Soil acidification Base cation Micronutrient Plant nutrition Semi-arid grassland 



We acknowledge Erguna Forest-Steppe Ecotone Ecosystem Research Station, Institute of Applied Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences for logistical support. The study was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31770525), the National Key Research and Development Program of China (2016YFC0500707) and Youth Innovation Promotion Association CAS (Y9QCH121YY).

Supplementary material

11104_2019_4217_MOESM1_ESM.docx (160 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 160 kb)


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Land and EnvironmentShenyang Agricultural UniversityShenyangChina
  2. 2.Erguna Forest-Steppe Ecotone Ecosystem Research Station, Institute of Applied EcologyChinese Academy of SciencesShenyangChina
  3. 3.National Hulunber Grassland Ecosystem Observation and Research Station, Institute of Agricultural Resources and Regional PlanningChinese Academy of Agricultural SciencesBeijingChina
  4. 4.Key Laboratory of Regional Environment and Eco-Remediation, College of EnvironmentShenyang UniversityShenyangChina
  5. 5.Centre for Carbon, Water and Food, School of Life and Environmental SciencesThe University of SydneySydneyAustralia

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