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  • Soils, Sec 2 • Global Change, Environ Risk Assess, Sustainable Land Use • Short Original Communication
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Temperature sensitivity of gross N transformation rates in an alpine meadow on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau



Alpine ecosystems on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau are sensitive to global climatic changes. However, the effects of temperature change resulting from global warming or seasonal variation on soil N availability in those ecosystems are largely unknown.

Materials and methods

We therefore conducted a 15N tracing study to investigate the effects of various temperatures (5–35 °C) on soil gross N transformation rates in an alpine meadow (AM) soil on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. A natural secondary coniferous forest (CF) soil from the subtropical region was chosen as a reference to compare the temperature sensitivity of soil gross N transformation rates between alpine meadow and coniferous forest.

Results and discussion

Our results showed that increasing temperature increased gross N mineralization and NH4 + immobilization rates and overall enhanced N availability for plants in both soils. However, both rates in the CF soil were less sensitive to a temperature change from 5 to 15 °C compared to the AM soil. In both soils, different N retention mechanisms could have been operating with respect to changing temperatures in the different climatic regions. In the CF soil, the absence of NO3 production at all incubation temperatures suggests that in the subtropical soil which is characterized by high rainfall, an increase in N availability due to increasing temperature could be completely retained in soils. In contrast, the AM soil may be vulnerable to N losses with respect to temperature changes, in particular at 35 °C, in which higher nitrification rates were coupled with lower NH4 + and NO3 immobilization rates.


Our results suggest that increased soil temperature arising from global warming and seasonal variations will most likely enhance soil N availability for plants and probably increase the risk of N losses in the alpine meadow on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau.

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This work was supported by grants from the “973” project (2015CB954201, 2014CB953803), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41101236), and the Priority Academic Program Development of Jiangsu Higher Education Institutions (PAPD, 164320H116).

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Correspondence to Jinbo Zhang.

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Responsible editor: Chengrong Chen

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Wang, J., Zhang, J., Müller, C. et al. Temperature sensitivity of gross N transformation rates in an alpine meadow on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. J Soils Sediments 17, 423–431 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11368-016-1530-2

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  • Alpine meadow
  • Gross N mineralization
  • Nitrification
  • Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau
  • Soil temperature·