Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 1478–1489 | Cite as

Soil C:N:P stoichiometry in plantations of N-fixing black locust and indigenous pine, and secondary oak forests in Northwest China

  • Yang Cao
  • Ping Zhang
  • Yunming Chen
Soils, Sec 2 • Global Change, Environ Risk Assess, Sustainable Land Use • Research Article



Soil nutrient concentrations and stoichiometry are important indicators of plant growth, terrestrial productivity, and ecosystem functioning. Nevertheless, little is known about the vertical distribution and the environmental factors influencing the spatial patterns of different forest types under the “Grain for Green” program and the “Natural Forest Resources Protection” project in Northwest of China.

Materials and methods

We collected 114 soil profile samples within a 0–100-cm depth from black locust and Chinese pine plantations, and secondary oak forests. We determined the vertical distributions of soil organic carbon (SOC), total nitrogen (TN), total phosphorus (TP), and their ratios along environmental gradients in Shaanxi Province, Northwest China.

Results and discussion

The results showed that both SOC and TN concentrations decreased exponentially within the soil profiles of the three forest types, but there was minimal change in TP. Significant differences in SOC, TN, and TP were found in the surface soil layers among the forest types. Both SOC and TN were relatively low in the N-fixing black locust plantations and TP was comparatively low in the Chinese pine plantations. The C:N:P ratios decreased with increasing soil depth for the three forest types. These ratios were comparatively high in the Chinese pine plantations, relatively low in the black locust plantations, and moderate in the oak forests. The differences in the ratios among the three forest types were more significant in surface soil than in deep soil. Precipitation was positively correlated with the concentrations of SOC and TN and the ratios of C:N:P. Temperature was negatively correlated with concentrations of SOC and TN and the ratios of C:N:P across all soil depths. A log-transformed linear C-N relationship was found for all three forest types, suggesting a well-constrained coupling between the levels of the two elements.


Our results demonstrated the effect of different tree species on soil C:N:P ratios and their controlling factors within soil profiles along environmental gradients. The secondary oak forest accumulated soil C and N more effectively than the plantations. The Chinese pine plantations were relatively more susceptible to P limitation. Therefore, the mechanism of different plant species on soil biogeochemical processes at the whole soil profile level must be considered when developing forest management strategies and implementing vegetation restoration projects.


Forest types Northwest China Soil nutrient status Spatial variability Vertical distribution 


Funding information

This research was supported by National Key R&D Program of China (2016YFC0501703), CAS “Light of West China” Program, and the National Nature Science Foundation of China (No. 41371506 and 41201088).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11368_2017_1884_Fig7_ESM.jpg (1.2 mb)
Fig. S1 Sampling sites of the three forest types in Shaanxi Province (JPEG 1222 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Soil Erosion and Dryland Farming on the Loess PlateauNorthwest A&F UniversityYanglingChina
  2. 2.Institute of Soil and Water ConservationChinese Academy of Sciences and Ministry of Water ResourcesYanglingChina
  3. 3.College of ForestryNorthwest A&F UniversityYanglingChina

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