Soil labile and recalcitrant carbon and nitrogen dynamics in relation to functional vegetation groups along precipitation gradients in secondary grasslands of South China


Soil labile and recalcitrant carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) are strongly controlled by plant inputs and climatic conditions. However, the interrelation of labile and recalcitrant pools with changes in plant functional groups (i.e., C3 and C4) along precipitation gradients is not fully understood. Here, we investigated the soil organic C and N (SOC and SON), labile C and N (LC and LN), recalcitrant C and N (RC and RN), and their isotopes (δ13C, and δ15N) in relation to C3 and C4 plant inputs from 20 sites across a 600-km precipitation gradient in secondary grasslands of South China. The SOC content decreased first slightly and then increased along precipitation gradients, largely due to the increase in C4 plant C inputs in the lower precipitation regions. In contrast, the SON content increased with increasing N inputs from C3 plant at higher precipitation regions. The LC and LN contents increased with increasing precipitation, whereas RC and RN did not change with precipitation. The LC and LN were correlated with plant C and N contents, as well as the mean annual precipitation, respectively. Increases in LC and LN stocks were tightly related to enhanced plant C and N inputs influenced by precipitation, suggesting stronger sensitivity of labile pools to both plant functional groups inputs and precipitation compared to the recalcitrant pool. Moreover, the δ13C values in RC declined with precipitation, while the δ15N values of both labile and recalcitrant N increased with increasing precipitation, further revealing that soil labile and recalcitrant C and N pools closely related to the shift in the C3 and C4 plant along precipitation gradients. Overall, our findings indicated that soil labile and recalcitrant fractions should be considered in context of precipitation under which plant inputs takes place in predicting soil C and N dynamics.

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We are grateful to Qian Zhang, Dandan Zhang and Jingwen Chen for their assistance in the laboratory and data analyses.

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This study was financially supported by the “Strategic Priority Research Program B of the Chinese Academy of Sciences” (XDB15010200) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31770563).

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Correspondence to Xiaoli Cheng.

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Feyissa, A., Yang, F., Feng, J. et al. Soil labile and recalcitrant carbon and nitrogen dynamics in relation to functional vegetation groups along precipitation gradients in secondary grasslands of South China. Environ Sci Pollut Res (2020).

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  • C3 plant input
  • C4 plant input
  • Labile pools
  • Precipitation
  • Recalcitrant pools
  • Soil organic matter