Soil C, N, and P stocks evaluation under major land uses on China’s Loess Plateau

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Society for Range Management
Open access under a Creative Commons license
Loess Plateau covers 640 000 km2 in the central northern China. Despite a semiarid environment, harsh winters, and hot summers, agriculture has been practiced in this region for > 5 000 yr, and the food production systems are among China's oldest. The environment is fragile because the loessial soils are prone to erosion. Sound scientific information is therefore required to underpin future land use planning in the region. To this end, total soil organic carbon (SOC), N, and P stocks were measured in Huanxian County of the wider Loess Plateau, representing five major land use categories. Sites were sampled three times over 3 yr. In all, almost 2 800 soil analyses were performed. A feature of these soils is low SOC content in the A horizon but comparatively small decline with soil depth. For example, SOC levels for the 0-20 cm and 70-100 cmsoil depths averaged 6.1 and 4.1Mg ha-1, respectively. Alfalfa and rangeland sites had 5.1 Mg ha-1 (10%) more total than cropland and 7.5 t ha-1 (16%) more total SOC to 100-cm soil depth than the two silvopastoral sites. For total soil N (0- to 100-cm soil depth) the averages of alfalfa and RL siteswere 20% and 28%, respectively, higher than the cropland and silvopastoral site group means, although soil C, N, and P levels are very low, relative to those of typical soils elsewhere. When these observations are scaled up to a regional level, it can be calculated that a 5% shift in land use from cropping or silvopastoral systems to alfalfa-based systems could increase soil C sequestration by as many as 20 million t CO2 per yr, although some caution is needed in making extrapolations, as the present data are from a single locality on the Loess Plateau.
land use conversion, semiarid region, soil organic carbon, soil total nitrogen, soil total phosphorus
RANGELAND ECOLOGY & MANAGEMENT, 2017, 70 (3), pp. 341 - 347