Sciences in Cold and Arid Regions ›› 2018, Vol. 10 ›› Issue (5): 404-412.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1226.2018.00404

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Altitude pattern of carbon stocks in desert grasslands of an arid land region

Rong Yang*(),JunQia Kong,ZeYu Du,YongZhong Su   

  1. Linze Inland River Basin Research Station, Key Laboratory of Ecohydrology of Inland River Basin, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Gansu 730000, China
  • Received:2018-04-27 Accepted:2018-08-16 Online:2018-11-19 Published:2018-11-21
  • Contact: Rong Yang
  • Supported by:
    This study was funded by the Key Research Program of Frontier Sciences of Chinese Academy of Sciences (QYZDJ-SSW-DQC040), the National Key Research and Development Program of China (2017YFC-0504306 and 2017YFC0504304), and the China National Natural Science Foundation (41201284).


For estimating the altitude-distribution pattern of carbon stocks in desert grasslands and analyzing the possible mechanism for this distribution, a detailed study was performed through a series of field vegetation surveys and soil samplings from 90 vegetation plots and 45 soil profiles at 9 sites of the Hexi Corridor region, Northwestern China. Aboveground, belowground, and litter-fall biomass-carbon stocks ranged from 43 to 109, 23 to 64, and 5 to 20 g/m2, with mean values of 80.82, 44.91, and 12.15 g/m2, respectively. Soil-carbon stocks varied between 2.88 and 3.98 kg/m2, with a mean value of 3.43 kg/m2 in the 0–100-cm soil layer. Both biomass- and soil-carbon stocks had an increasing tendency corresponding to the altitudinal gradient. A significantly negative correlation was found between soil-carbon stock and mean annual temperature, with further better correlations between soil- and biomass-carbon stocks, and mean annual precipitation. Furthermore, soil carbon was found to be positively correlated with soil-silt and -clay content, and negatively correlated with soil bulk density and the volume percent of gravel. It can be concluded that variations in soil texture and climate condition were the key factors influencing the altitudinal pattern of carbon stocks in this desert-grassland ecosystem. Thus, by using the linear-regression functions between altitude and carbon stocks, approximately 4.18 Tg carbon were predicted from the 1,260 km2 of desert grasslands in the study area.

Key words: altitudinal gradient, soil organic carbon, biomass carbon, soil bulk density, desert grasslands

Table 1

Aboveground biomass percentage of species at nine sampling sites with ten replicates"

Altitude (m) Total aboveground biomass (g/m2) Aboveground biomass percentage of species (%)
Salsola passerina Sympegma regelii
1,564 125 ± 16 2% ± 1% 98% ± 1%
1,569 202 ± 23 97% ± 2% 3% ± 2%
1,588 167 ± 17 68% ± 3% 32% ± 3%
1,598 211 ± 21 100% ± 0% 0% ± 0%
1,679 245 ± 26 72% ± 8% 28% ± 8%
1,689 295 ± 31 59% ± 8% 41% ± 8%
1,749 251 ± 15 94% ± 3% 6% ± 3%
1,759 274 ± 15 100% ± 0% 0% ± 0%
1,814 297 ± 19 93% ± 3% 7% ± 3%

Figure 1

Desert-grasslands distribution and sampling sites in the study area"

Figure 2

Vertical distributions of (a) SOC and (b) BD. Standard errors are denoted by horizontal bars; bar having the same letter are not significantly different at α=0.05 "

Figure 3

Soil-organic-carbon (SOC) stocks in soil profiles for sites at different altitudes; error bars represent standard error"

Figure 4

Changes in (a) soil-organic-carbon (SOC) stocks, (b) biomass-carbon (BC) stocks, and (c) ecosystem-carbon (EC) stocks along an altitudinal gradient"

Figure 5

Correlation relationships between SOC and BD (a–f), VPG (g–l), sand content (m–r), and silt content (s–x) at different soil depths"

Table 3

Correlations between carbon stocks and climatic variables at nine sampling sites"

Carbon stocks MATa MAP
Linear equation Simple correlation coefficient (R) Linear equation Simple correlation coefficient (R)
AGB (g/m2) ?41.39 MAT +390.04 0.65* 2.78 MAP?288.55 0.86**
BGB (g/m2) 0.14 0.14
LFB (g/m2) 0.041 0.082
Biomass (g/m2) 0.56 2.31 MAP?176.09 0.60*
Soil (0–100 cm) (kg/m2) ?0.89 MAT+9.92 ?0.74* 0.052 MAP?3.56 0.89**
Ecosystem (kg/m2) ?0.93 MAT+10.39 ?0.74* 0.054 MAP?3.74 0.89**

Table 2

Biomass, carbon content, and carbon stocks at nine sampling sites"

Items Biomass (g/m2) Carbon content (%) Carbon stock (g/m2)
Mean Range Mean Range Mean Range
AGB 222±20ab 125–297 35.7±0.7a 33.3–40.2 81±7a 43–109
BGB 106±17b 54–217 45.7±0.2b 44.9–47.0 45±5b 23–65
LFB 31±3c 19–46 39.0±1.0c 34.6–43.3 12±2c 5–20
Analysis of variance (ANOVA)
F value 41.7 51.2 41.3
P < 0.001 < 0.001 < 0.001
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