Soil N availability drives the shifts of enzyme activity and microbial phosphorus limitation in the artificial soil on cut slope in southwestern China

Abstract

The construction of highways in the subalpine mountains generates many cut slopes. Currently, the restoration of cut slope mainly focuses on the aboveground landscapes and slope stability. Yet, it remains elusive about the belowground ecosystem functions at the early stage of restoration. In this study, we evaluated the belowground ecosystem functions of cut slopes that had been restored approximately 3 years using soil enzymatic activities, microbial biomass, and stoichiometry as the proxies. The results indicated that the phenol oxidase activity was higher in cut slopes, while the activities of β-1,4-glucosidase, β-1,4-N-acetylglucosaminidase, leucine aminopeptidase, and acid phosphatase were lower in cut slope soils compared with natural soils. Soil nitrogen availabilities (total and/or ammonium nitrogen) showed high negative correlations with the phenol oxidase activity and positive correlations with the activities of almost all other enzymes. These results suggested that soil nitrogen was the key factor in driving the shifts of enzymatic activities across two types of soils. Moreover, we found the imbalance of soil nutrients in cut slope soils, especially the carbon vs. nitrogen and the nitrogen vs. phosphorus. By applying the vector analysis, we found that the vector A values were more than 45° in all samples, suggesting that microbial phosphorus limitation occurred in both cut slope and natural soils. These findings suggested that maintaining the balance of soil nutrient supplies is important to the recovery of the below-ground ecosystem functions at the early restoration stage of cut slopes. This study provided new insights into designing the ecological restoration strategies for cut slopes by considering the belowground ecosystem functions.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank the supporter of this project and the referees for their constructive comments. We also appreciate the critical revisions and excellent editing work by Xiangzhen Li.

Funding

The study was supported by National Key R&D Program of China (2017YFC0504903) and National Natural Science Foundation of China [No. 41971056].

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HJL drafted the manuscript and completed the data analysis. HJL, MHS, JL, XYA, and SHA performed experiments. CNL completed the task of data pre-processing and revised the figures. YWA critically revised the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Yingwei Ai.

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Liao, H., Sheng, M., Liu, J. et al. Soil N availability drives the shifts of enzyme activity and microbial phosphorus limitation in the artificial soil on cut slope in southwestern China. Environ Sci Pollut Res (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-021-13012-7

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Keywords

  • Enzyme activity
  • Vector analysis
  • Nutrient imbalance
  • Microbial phosphorus limitation
  • Cut slope