The role of soil water retention functions of near-surface fissures with different vegetation types in a rocky desertification area

  • Xudong Peng
  • Quanhou DaiEmail author
  • Guijie Ding
  • Dongmei Shi
  • Changlan Li
Regular Article



Soil water deficits have presented challenges to vegetation restoration in rocky desertification areas. In the field, small volumes of soil resources are present only in near-surface crevices, fissures, and other similar features. Water stored in the soil in near-surface fissures can help plants grow in such areas. The goals of this study are to discuss the soil water retention functions of near-surface fissures in terms of soil structure, water infiltration and water storage capacity and to define the role of fissure water in the growth of plants in rocky desertification areas.


Several near-surface fissures with four types of vegetation (i.e., crops, grass, shrubs and trees) within a rocky karst desertification area on the Karst Plateau in Guizhou Province, China, were examined. Soil physicochemical property analysis and stable isotope techniques were applied.


Fissures with shrubs and trees present high levels of soil porosity, while fissures with crops and grasses present low levels of soil porosity. The water infiltration rates of the soil in all of the examined fissures are higher than the rainfall intensity of the maximum daily rainfall for this province. Consequently, most rainwater infiltrates through the fissure soils. Compared to the other fissures, fissures with crops present higher levels of usable soil storage capacity in the surface soils (0–20 cm), which are affected by tillage (ploughing), but exhibit lower capacities in the bottom soil layer. Additionally, tree and shrub fissures present higher usable soil storage capacities in bottom soil layer than other types of fissures.


The main source of water for Ligustrum and Pyracantha in the dry season is fissure water, which accounts for 44.7% and 58.2% of all the water utilized by these species, respectively. Fissure water may represent the most important source of water for plants growing in near-surface karst fissures.


Water retention function Near-surface fissure Vegetation types Rocky desertification 



This work was supported through the first class discipline construction projects of Guizhou Province (GNYL[2017]007), the National Key Research and Development Program of China (2016YFC0502604), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 41671275, 41461057), the Major Project of Guizhou Province (Qian Ke He Major Project [2016]3022, Qian Ke He Platform Talent [2017]5788), the High-level Innovative Talents in Guizhou Province (Qian Ke He Platform Talents [2018]5641) and the Research Projects of Introducing Talents in Guizhou University (Gui Da Ren Ji He Zi (2018)49).


  1. Bodhinayake W, Si BC, Noborio K (2004) Determination of hydraulic properties in sloping landscapes from tension and double-ring infiltrometers. Vadose Zone J 3(3):964–970Google Scholar
  2. Cao JH, Yuan DX, Pan GX (2003) Some soil features in karst ecosystem. Adv Earth Science 18(1):37–44Google Scholar
  3. Cerdà A (2001) Effects of rock fragment cover on soil infiltration, interrill runoff and erosion. Eur J Soil Sci 52(1):59–68Google Scholar
  4. Chen HS, Liu JW, Wang KL, Zhang W (2011) Spatial distribution of rock fragments on steep hillslopes in karst region of Northwest Guangxi, China. Catena 84(1–2):21–28Google Scholar
  5. Čustović H, Misilo M, Marković M (2014) Water balance of Mediterranean karst soil in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a water conservation and erosion control factor. Soil Sci Plant Nutr 60(1):100–107Google Scholar
  6. Dai Q, Peng X, Zhao L, Shao H, Yang Z (2017) Effects of underground pore fissures on soil Erosion and sediment yield on karst slopes. Land Degrad Dev 28(7):1922–1932Google Scholar
  7. Ehleringer JR, Roden J, Dawson TE (2000) Assessing ecosystem-level water relations through stable isotope ratio analyses. In: Sala OE, Jackson RB, Mooney HA, Howarth RW (eds) Methods in ecosystem science. Springer, New York, pp 181–198Google Scholar
  8. Estrada-Medina H, Graham RC, Allen MF, JJ J’n-O, Robles-Casolco S (2012) The importance of limestone bedrock and dissolution karst features on tree root distribution in northern Yucata’n, Me’xico. Plant Soil 362:37–50Google Scholar
  9. Febles-González JM, Vega-Carreño MB, Tolón-Becerra A, Lastra-Bravo X (2012) Assessment of soil erosion in karst regions of Havana, Cuba. Land Degrad Dev 23:465–474Google Scholar
  10. Fiorillo F (2009) Spring hydrographs as indicators of droughts in a karst environment. J Hydrol 373:290–301Google Scholar
  11. Fiorillo F, Guadagno FM (2012) Long karst spring discharge time series and droughts occurrence in southern Italy. Environ Earth Sci 65(8):2273–2283Google Scholar
  12. Fischer C, Tischer J, Roscher C, Eisenhauer N, Ravenek J, Gleixner G, Attinger S, Jensen B, Kroon H, Mommer L, Scheu S, Hildebrandt A (2014) Plant species diversity affects infiltration capacity in an experimental grassland through changes in soil properties. Plant Soil 397(1–2):1–16Google Scholar
  13. Ford D, Williams PD (2013) Karst hydrogeology and geomorphology. Wiley, HobokenGoogle Scholar
  14. Hubbert KR, Beyers JL, Graham RC (2001) Roles of weathered bedrock and soil in seasonal water relations of Pinus Jeffreyi and Arctostaphylos patula. Can J For Res 31(11):1947–1957Google Scholar
  15. Institute of Soil Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences (ISSCAS) (1978) Soil chemical and physical analysis. Shanghai Science and Technology Press (China), ShanghaiGoogle Scholar
  16. Keesstra SD, Bouma J, Wallinga J, Tittonell P, Smith P, Cerdà A, Montanarella L, Quinton JN, Pachepsky Y, van der Putten WH, Bardgett RD, Moolenaar S, Mol G, Jansen B, Fresco LO (2016) The significance of soils and soil science towards realization of the United Nations sustainable development goals. Soil 2:111–128Google Scholar
  17. Kiernan K (2010) Environmental degradation in karst areas of Cambodia: a legacy of war? Land Degrad Dev 21:503–519Google Scholar
  18. Li YB, Wang SJ, Li RL (2004) Differences in natural characteristics for karst ecosystems under different geological backgrounds as exemplified by Maolan and Huajiang ecosystems. Geology-Geochemistry 32(1):9–16Google Scholar
  19. Li SG, Romero-Saltos H, Tsujimura M, Sugimoto A, Sasaki L, Davaa G, Oyunbaatar D (2007) Plant water sources in the cold semiarid ecosystem of the upper Kherlen River catchment in Mongolia: a stable isotope approach. J Hydrol 333(1):109–117Google Scholar
  20. Li S, Ren HD, Xue L, Chang J, Yao XH (2014) Influence of bare rocks on surrounding soil moisture in the karst rocky desertification regions under drought conditions. Catena 116(3):157–162Google Scholar
  21. Lipiec J, Kuś J, Słowińska-Jurkiewicz A, Nosalewicz A (2006) Soil porosity and water infiltration as influenced by tillage methods. Soil Tillage Res 89(2):210–220Google Scholar
  22. Liu F, Wang SJ, Luo HB, Liu YS, Liu HY (2008) Micro-habitats in karst forest ecosystem and variability of soils. Acta Pedol Sin 45(6):1055–1062Google Scholar
  23. Liu S, Wang T, Kang W, David M (2015) Several challenges in monitoring and assessing desertification. Environ Earth Sci 73(11):7561–7570Google Scholar
  24. Liu B, Li Y, Chen J, Chen X (2016) Long term change in precipitation structure over the karst area of Southwest China. Int J Climatol 36(6):2417–2434Google Scholar
  25. Lu RK (1999) Agricultural chemical analysis method of soil. Chinese agricultural science and technology Press (China), BeijingGoogle Scholar
  26. Mao LL, Li YZ, Hao WP, Mei XR, Bralts VF, Li HR, Guo R, Lei T (2016) An approximate point source method for soil infiltration process measurement. Geoderma 264:10–16Google Scholar
  27. Mcelrone AJ, Pockman WT, Martínez-Vilalta J, Jackson RB (2010) Variation in xylem structure and function in stems and roots of trees to 20m depth. New Phytol 163(3):507–517Google Scholar
  28. Milly PCD (1993) An analytic solution of the stochastic storage problem applicable to soil water. Water Resour Res 29(11):3755–3758Google Scholar
  29. Mol G, Keesstra S (2012) Soil science in a changing world. Curr Opin Environ Sustain 4(5):473–477Google Scholar
  30. Nie YP, Chen HS, Wang KL, Yang J (2012) Water source utilization by woody plants growing on dolomite outcrops and nearby soils during dry seasons in karst region of Southwest China. J Hydrol 420(4):264–274Google Scholar
  31. Nie YP, Chen HS, Wang KL, Ding YL (2014) Seasonal variations in leaf δ13C values: implications for different water-use strategies among species growing on continuous dolomite outcrops in subtropical China. Acta Physiol Plant 36(10):2571–2579Google Scholar
  32. Noy-Meir I, Agami M, Cohen E, Anikster Y (1991) Floristic and ecological differentiation of habitats within a wild wheat population at Ammiad. Isr J Bot 40:363–384Google Scholar
  33. Pansu M, Gautheyrou J (2006) Handbook of soil analysis: mineralogical, organic and inorganic methods. Springer, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  34. Parchami-Araghi F, Mirlatifi SM, Dashtaki SG, Mahdian MH (2013) Point estimation of soil water infiltration process using artificial neural networks for some calcareous soils. J Hydrol 481(5):35–47Google Scholar
  35. Peng X, Shi D, Guo H, Jiang D, Wang S, Li Y (2015) Effect of urbanisation on the water retention function in the three gorges reservoir area, China. Catena 133:241–249Google Scholar
  36. Peng X, Dai Q, Li C, Zhao L (2018) Role of underground fissure flow in near-surface rainfall-runoff process on a rock mantled slope in the karst rocky desertification area. Eng Geol 243:10–17Google Scholar
  37. Phillips DL, Gregg JW (2003) Source partitioning using stable isotopes: coping with too many sources. Oecologia 136:261–269Google Scholar
  38. Poesen J, Lavee H (1994) Rock fragments in topsoils: significance and processes. Catena 23:1–28Google Scholar
  39. Pohl M, Graf F, Buttler A, Rixen C (2012) The relationship between plant species richness and soil aggregate stability can depend on disturbance. Plant Soil 355(1–2):87–102Google Scholar
  40. Querejeta JI, Estrada-Medina H, Allen MF, Jiménez-Osornio JJ, Ruenes R (2006) Utilization of bedrock water by Brosimum alicastrum trees growing on shallow soil atop limestone in a dry tropical climate. Plant Soil 287(1/2):187–197Google Scholar
  41. Querejeta J, Estrada-Medina H, Allen M, Jimenez-Osornio J (2007) Water source partitioning among trees growing on shallow karst soils in a seasonally dry tropical climate. Oecologia 152(1):26–36Google Scholar
  42. Ruiz Sinoga JD, Romero Diaz A, Ferre Bueno E (2010) The role of soil surface conditions in regulating runoff and erosion processes on a metamorphic hillslope (southern Spain): soil surface conditions, runoff and erosion in southern Spain. Catena 80(2):131–139Google Scholar
  43. Sarkar D, Haldar A (2005) Physical and chemical methods in soil analysis. New Age International, New DelhiGoogle Scholar
  44. Schwinning S (2010) The ecohydrology of roots in rocks. Ecohydrology 3(2):238–245Google Scholar
  45. Shi XZ, Liang Y, Yu DS (2004) Functional rehabilitation of the “soil reservoir” in degraded soills to control floods in the Yangtze River watershed. Pedosphere 14(1):1–8Google Scholar
  46. Shi P, Wu M, Qu S, Jiang P, Qiao X, Chen X, Zhou M, Zhang Z (2015) Spatial distribution and temporal trends in precipitation concentration indices for the Southwest China. Water Resour Manag 29(11):3941–3955Google Scholar
  47. Shi D, Wang W, Jiang G, Peng X, Yu Y, Li Y, Ding W (2016) Effects of disturbed landforms on the soil water retention function during urbanization process in the three gorges reservoir region, China. Catena 144:84–93Google Scholar
  48. Tan H, Cai R, Chen J, Huang R (2017) Decadal winter drought in Southwest China since the late 1990s and its atmospheric teleconnection. Int J Climatol 37(1):455–467Google Scholar
  49. Wang SJ, Liu QM, Zhang DF (2004) Karst rocky desertification in southwestern China: geomorphology, landuse, impact and rehabilitation. Land Degrad Dev 15(2):115–121Google Scholar
  50. Williams PW (2008) The role of the epikarst in karst and cave hydrogeology:a review. Int J Speleol 37:1–10Google Scholar
  51. Witty JH, Graham RC, Hubbert KR, Doolittle JA, Wald JA (2003) Contributions of water supply from the weathered bedrock zone to forest soil quality. Geoderma 114:389–400Google Scholar
  52. Wu D, Chen X, Lv F, Brenner M, Curtis J, Zhou A, Chen J, Abbott M, Yu J, Chen F (2018) Decoupled early Holocene summer temperature and monsoon precipitation in Southwest China. Quat Sci Rev 193:54–67Google Scholar
  53. Yang H, Lu M, Cao J (2015) Trace elements of the soil–plant systems in subtropical karst and clasolite areas in Guilin, Guangxi, China. Environ Earth Sci 73(10):6259–6269Google Scholar
  54. Zhang ZC, Chen X, Wang W, Shi P (2007) Analysis of rainfall trend and extreme events in Guizhou. Earth Environ 35(4):351–356Google Scholar
  55. Zhang JG, Chen HS, Su YR, Kong XL, Zhang W, Shi Y, Liang HB, Shen GM (2011) Spatial variability and patterns of surface soil moisture in a field plot of karst area in Southwest China. Plant Soil Environ 57(9):409–417Google Scholar
  56. Zhang W, Jin FF, Zhao JX, Qi L, Ren HL (2013) The possible influence of a nonconventional El Niño on the severe autumn drought of 2009 in Southwest China. J Clim 26(21):8392–8405Google Scholar
  57. Zhu X, Shen Y, He B, Zhao Z (2017) Humus soil as a critical driver of flora conversion on karst rock outcrops. Sci Rep 7(1):12611Google Scholar
  58. Zwieniecki MA, Newton M (1996) Water-holding characteristics of metasedimentary rock in selected forest ecosystemsin southwestern Oregon. Soil Sci Soc Am J 60:1578–1582Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of ForestryGuizhou UniversityGuiyangChina
  2. 2.College of Resource and EnvironmentSouthwest UniversityChongqingChina
  3. 3.Qiantao Township People’s GovernmentGuiyangChina

Personalised recommendations