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Contents of soil organic carbon and nitrogen in water-stable aggregates in abandoned agricultural lands in an arid ecosystem of Northwest China

Abstract

Soil organic matter content in water-stable aggregates (WSA) in the arid ecosystems (abandoned agricultural lands especially) of China is poorly understood. In this study, we examined the WSA sizes and stability, and soil organic carbon (OC) and nitrogen (N) contents in agricultural lands with abandonment ages of 0, 3, 12, 20, 30 and 40 years, respectively, in the Minqin Oasis of Northwest China. The total soil OC and N contents at depths of 0–20, 20–40 and 40–60 cm in abandoned agricultural lands were compared to those in cultivated land (the control). Agricultural land abandonment significantly (P<0.05) influenced the distribution of MWD (mean weight diameter), and OC and N contents. There were significant increases in MWD and the proportion of macroaggregates (sizes >0.25 mm) as the age of agricultural land abandonment increased. The effect of abandonment ages of agricultural lands on MWD was determined by the changes of OC and N accumulation in WSA sizes >2 mm. The total OC and N contents presented a stratification phenomenon across soil depths in this arid ecosystem. That is, both of them decreased significantly at depths of 0–20 and 40–60 cm while increased at the depth of 20–40 cm. The WSA sizes <0.053 mm had the highest soil OC and N contents (accounting for 51.41%–55.59% and 42.61%–48.94% of their total, respectively). Soil OC and N contents in microaggregates (sizes 0.053–0.25 mm) were the dominant factors that influenced the variations of total OC and N contents in abandoned agricultural lands. The results of this study suggested that agricultural land abandonment may result in the recovery of WSA stability and the shifting of soil organic matter from the silt+clay (<0.053 mm) and microaggregate fractions to the macroaggregate fractions. However, agricultural land abandonment did not increase total soil OC and N contents in the short-term.

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Correspondence to Junqiang Wang.

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Wang, J., Liu, L., Qiu, X. et al. Contents of soil organic carbon and nitrogen in water-stable aggregates in abandoned agricultural lands in an arid ecosystem of Northwest China. J. Arid Land 8, 350–363 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40333-016-0042-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s40333-016-0042-7

Keywords

  • aggregate stability
  • water-stable aggregates
  • agricultural abandonment
  • soil organic carbon
  • total nitrogen
  • northwestern China