Spatial pattern of soil organic carbon in desert grasslands of the diluvial-alluvial plains of northern Qilian Mountains

Abstract

The soil properties in arid ecosystems are important determinants of vegetation distribution patterns. Soil organic carbon (SOC) content, which is closely related to soil types and the holding capacities of soil water and nutrients, exhibits complex variability in arid desert grasslands; thus, it is essentially an impact factor for the distribution pattern of desert grasslands. In the present study, an investigation was conducted to estimate the spatial pattern of SOC content in desert grasslands and the association with environmental factors in the diluvial-alluvial plains of northern Qilian Mountains. The results showed that the mean values of SOC ranged from 2.76 to 5.80 g/kg in the soil profiles, and decreased with soil depths. The coefficients of variation (CV) of the SOC were high (ranging from 48.83% to 94.67%), which indicated a strong spatial variability. SOC in the desert grasslands of the study region presented a regular spatial distribution, which increased gradually from the northwest to the southeast. The SOC distribution had a pattern linked to elevation, which may be related to the gradient of climate conditions. Soil type and plant community significantly affected the SOC. The SOC had a significant positive relationship with soil moisture (P<0.05); whereas, it had a more significant negative relationship with the soil bulk density (BD) (P<0.01). However, a number of the variations in the SOC could be explained not by the environmental factors involved in this analysis, but rather other factors (such as grazing activity and landscape). The results provide important references for soil carbon storage estimation in this study region. In addition, the SOC association with environmental variables also provides a basis for a sustainable use of the limited grassland resources in the diluvial-alluvial plains of northern Qilian Mountains.

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Correspondence to Tao Wang.

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Yang, R., Su, Y., Wang, M. et al. Spatial pattern of soil organic carbon in desert grasslands of the diluvial-alluvial plains of northern Qilian Mountains. J. Arid Land 6, 136–144 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40333-013-0200-0

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Keywords

  • soil organic carbon
  • spatial variability
  • desert grasslands
  • elevation
  • edaphic factor
  • Qilian Mountains