Changes in soil organic carbon and its active fractions in different desertification stages of alpine-cold grassland in the eastern Qinghai–Tibet Plateau

  • Yu-Fu Hu
  • Shuang-Long Jiang
  • Shu Yuan
  • Liang-Ji Deng
  • Hai-Hua Xiao
  • Xiang-Yang Shu
  • Guang-Deng Chen
  • Jian-Guo Xia
Original Article


In recent years, the desertification of alpine-cold grasslands has become increasingly serious in the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau in China, but it has not received the same amount of attention as has desertification in (semi)arid areas. Little is thus known about the change in soil organic carbon (SOC) during alpine-cold grassland desertification. To quantify the impacts of desertification on vegetation, SOC and its active fractions in alpine-cold grasslands, areas of light desertified grassland, medium desertified grassland, heavy desertified grassland, serious desertified grassland, and nondesertified grassland were selected as experimental sites in the eastern Qinghai–Tibet Plateau in China. The species number, height and coverage of vegetation were surveyed, and the soil particle fractions, SOC and SOC active fractions (including dissolved organic carbon (DOC), microbial biomass carbon (MBC), and labile organic carbon (LOC) were measured to a depth of 0–100 cm. The results showed that alpine-cold grassland desertification resulted in a significant reduction in vegetation cover, plant biomass, fine soil particles, SOC, DOC, LOC and MBC. The decreases in DOC, LOC and MBC were more rapid and apparent than were those in SOC, and the decrease in MBC was the most obvious among them. The rates of reduction in SOC concentrations accelerated as desertification progressed; most of the SOC was lost in the middle and later desertification stages, with lower losses during early desertification. The results indicate that active SOC fractions, particularly MBC, are more sensitive to desertification and can be used as sensitive indicators of desertification. Efforts to limit desertification and reduce SOC loss in alpine-cold grasslands should focus on early desertification stages and adopt strategies to prevent overgrazing and control the erosion of soil by wind.


Alpine-cold grassland Desertification Microbial biomass carbon Soil organic carbon Qinghai–Tibet Plateau 



The authors are grateful to the Editor and the anonymous individuals who provided their comments and critical reviews for drafts of this manuscript. This research was funded by the National Key Technology Research Program of the Ministry of Science and Technology of China (2015BAC05B01; 2015BAC05B02), the Technology Research Program of the Ministry of Science and Technology of Sichuan, China (2014SZ0159), the Northwest Sichuan Characteristic Economy Rhodiola Planted Technology Research at the Grassland Degradation (2014SZ0057) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31372052). We thank Jia–Jia Peng, Qin Pu and Cheng-Ming Yuan for collecting the data. We thank LetPub ( and Taylor & Francis Editing Services for their linguistic assistance during the preparation of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yu-Fu Hu
    • 1
  • Shuang-Long Jiang
    • 1
  • Shu Yuan
    • 1
  • Liang-Ji Deng
    • 1
  • Hai-Hua Xiao
    • 1
  • Xiang-Yang Shu
    • 1
  • Guang-Deng Chen
    • 1
  • Jian-Guo Xia
    • 1
  1. 1.College of Resources Science and TechnologySichuan Agricultural UniversityChengduChina

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