To clarify the relationship between the soil selenium distribution and its bioavailability with the distribution of Kashin–Beck disease (KBD) endemic areas on the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, samples of natural soil (0–20 cm), cultivated topsoil, and main crops of the region (highland barley) were collected at different altitudes according to topographical and geomorphological features in both KBD and non-KBD areas of Songpan County. These samples were used for determination and analysis of total selenium content in soil and highland barley and available selenium that can be absorbed and utilized by plants. The results showed that the average total selenium content of natural and cultivated topsoil in KBD areas was lower than that in non-KBD areas (natural soil, P = 0.061; cultivated soil, P = 0.002), which is in agreement with the geographical distributions of selenium in other KBD-affected areas. However, the total soil selenium content exhibits certain micro-spatial distribution features, namely, the total selenium content in some endemic areas was significantly higher than that of non-KBD areas. This result was contrary to the general distribution that total selenium content in a KBD-affected area is lower than that in a non-KBD area. We further studied the extraction rate and content of soil selenium in six different fractions. The results indicated that the content and extraction rate of available selenium in KBD-affected areas were significantly lower than those in non-KBD areas. There is a distinct positive correlation between plant-available selenium and highland barley selenium (r = 0.875, P = 0.001) and a distinct negative correlation with altitude (r = −0.801, P = 0.010). Therefore, in KBD endemic areas, the selenium content in crops decreases as the available selenium content in soil decreases and is closely related to the geographical environment features (such as altitude and precipitation). These results suggest that the soil available selenium and ecological features are important factors that restrict the dietary selenium flux for residents in KBD endemic areas of the Tibetan Plateau, providing a theoretical and experimental basis for implementing agricultural measures to regulate the ecological cycle of the selenium flux in the KBD endemic area.
Tibetan Plateau Kashin–Beck disease Soil selenium Bioavailability of selenium