Disentangling the direct and indirect effects of cropland abandonment on soil microbial activity in grassland soil at different depths

Hongwei Xu, Qing Qu, Yanhua Chen, Minggang Wang, Guobin Liu, Sha Xue*, Xiaomei Yang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Cropland abandonment strongly affects plant-soil interactions. However, knowledge remains limited about how the production and diversity of plants and soil physicochemical parameters drive changes in soil microbial activity (such as microbial biomass, respiration, and enzyme activity) after cropland abandonment. Here, we investigated a grassland restoration chronosequence (0–30 years) to determine the dynamics of soil microbial biomass, respiration, and enzyme activity in the Loess Hilly, Region (China). Overall, cropland abandonment caused an increase in soil microbial activity primarily in the 0–20 cm soil layers. The metabolic quotient in the 0–10 cm layer decreased linearly with time since abandonment (recovery years). Structural equation models showed that recovery years directly and indirectly affected changes to soil microbial activity. Plant species richness, aboveground biomass, and soil organic carbon explained a large proportion of the variability in soil microbial activity in the 0–20 cm layer. However, the variability in soil microbial activity was mostly explained by plant species richness, belowground biomass, and soil total nitrogen in the 20–50 cm layers. Our results indicate that during recovery after cropland abandonment, changes in soil microbial activity are driven by plant characteristics and soil physicochemical parameters, with different drivers at different soil depths.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104774
JournalCatena
Volume194
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020

Keywords

  • Plant-soil interactions
  • Soil enzyme activity
  • Soil nutrients
  • Structural equation models
  • Vegetation restoration

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