Soil organic carbon contents, aggregate stability, and humic acid composition in different alpine grasslands in Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

Abstract

Alpine grassland soils on Qinghai-Tibet Plateau store approximately 33.5 Pg of organic carbon (C) at 0–0.75 m depth and play an important role in the global carbon cycle. We investigated soil organic C (SOC), water-soluble organic C (WSOC), easily oxidizable organic C (EOC), humic C fractions, aggregate-associated C, aggregate stability, and humic acid (HA) composition along an east-west transect across Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and explored their spatial patterns and controlling factors. The contents of SOC, WSOC, EOC, humic C fractions and aggregate-associated C, the proportions of macro-aggregates (2-0.25) and micro-aggregates (0.25-0.053 mm), and the aggregate stability indices all increased in the order alpine desert < alpine steppe < alpine meadow. The alkyl C, O-alkyl C, and aliphatic C/aromatic C ratio of HA increased as alpine desert < alpine meadow < alpine steppe, and the trends were reverse for the aromatic C and HB/HI ratio. Mean annual precipitation and aboveground biomass were significantly correlated with the contents of SOC and its fractions, the proportions of macro- and micro-aggregates, and the aggregate stability indices along this transect. Among all these C fractions, SOC content and aggregate stability were more closely associated with humic C and silt and clay sized C in comparison with WSOC, EOC, and macro- and micro-aggregate C. The results suggested that alpine meadow soils containing higher SOC exhibited high soil aggregation and aggregate stability. Mean annual precipitation should be the main climate factor controlling the spatial patterns of SOC, soil aggregation, and aggregate stability in this region. The resistant and stable C fractions rather than labile C fractions are the major determinant of SOC stocks and aggregate stability.

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Cao, Zy., Wang, Y., Li, J. et al. Soil organic carbon contents, aggregate stability, and humic acid composition in different alpine grasslands in Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. J. Mt. Sci. 13, 2015–2027 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11629-015-3744-y

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Keywords

  • Soil organic carbon
  • Aggregate stability
  • Humic acid
  • Carbon-13 nuclear magnetic resonance
  • Latitudinal transect
  • Qinghai-Tibet Plateau