Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 19, Issue 5, pp 2190–2199 | Cite as

Factors affecting 13C enrichment of vegetation and soil in temperate grasslands in Inner Mongolia, China

  • Yongchun Zhou
  • Wenbo Zhang
  • Xilei Cheng
  • Warwick Harris
  • Sean M. Schaeffer
  • Xinyang XuEmail author
  • Bing Zhao
Soils, Sec 1 • Soil Organic Matter Dynamics and Nutrient Cycling • Research Article



Soil organic carbon (SOC) dynamics are central to understanding the effects of environmental change on the carbon cycle of ecosystems. Vegetation and soil stable carbon isotope composition (δ13C), especially the difference of δ13C between surface soils and source vegetation (Δδ13C), can provide useful information about the SOC dynamics. The variations and patterns of vegetation and soil δ13C and Δδ13C along climatic and edaphic gradients were analyzed to improve the understanding of SOC dynamics in temperate grassland ecosystems.

Materials and methods

Soil and plant samples were collected along climatic and edaphic gradients. Meteorological data were extracted from a regional climate database, which was spatially interpolated based on the records at 107 climatic stations located in Inner Mongolia. δ13C, carbon and nitrogen contents of soil and plant, soil pH, soil clay, silt, and sand contents were determined. Δδ13C and soil C:N were calculated. The integrative effects of these factors were further estimated using stepwise regression, redundancy analysis (RDA) and T value biplots.

Results and discussion

As expected, soil δ13C was positively related to vegetation δ13C, and higher than the vegetation δ13C. Vegetation and soil δ13C and Δδ13C were all related to growing season precipitation (GSP) and growing season temperature (GST). However, when climatic and edaphic factors were considered together, vegetation δ13C was positively related to GST and soil C:N, soil δ13C was positively related only to GST, and Δδ13C was negatively related only to soil C:N. Unlike previous research conducted at the species level which only included C3 species, GST, instead of precipitation, was the dominant controlling factor of vegetation δ13C.


GST influences vegetation δ13C mainly through its effect on relative abundance of C4 plants. Soil C:N rather than climatic factors is the dominant controlling factor of SOC decomposition, and the effects of climatic factors on SOC decomposition are indirect and induced by their effects on soil C:N through influencing species composition and plant C:N. Measuring vegetation δ13C, soil δ13C, and △δ13C simultaneously is necessary to comprehensively understand how environmental changes influence ecosystem carbon cycles.


Carbon cycle Climatic factors Edaphic factors Stable carbon isotope composition Temperate grasslands 



We thank Hongli Zhang for her assistance with field sampling and laboratory analyses.

Funding information

The study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 31400413); the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities of China (No. N130301001, N160102001); the Doctoral Startup Foundation of Liaoning Province (No. 20141017); and the Visiting Scholar Program of China Scholarship Council (No. 201706085003).

Supplementary material

11368_2019_2248_MOESM1_ESM.docx (64 kb)
Fig. A1 Frequency distribution of soil and vegetation δ13C values from 29 temperate grassland sites on the Xilingele League, Inner Mongolia, China (DOCX 63 kb)
11368_2019_2248_MOESM2_ESM.docx (108 kb)
Fig. A2 Relationships of soil δ13C, vegetation δ13C and △δ13C with MAT and MAP in temperate grasslands on the Xilingele League, Inner Mongolia, China. MAT, mean annual temperature; MAP, mean annual precipitation (DOCX 107 kb)
11368_2019_2248_MOESM3_ESM.docx (74 kb)
Fig. A3 Relationships of soil δ13C, vegetation δ13C and △δ13C with soil texture in temperate grasslands on the Xilingele League, Inner Mongolia, China (DOCX 74 kb)
11368_2019_2248_MOESM4_ESM.docx (19 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 18 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Resources and Civil EngineeringNortheastern UniversityShenyangChina
  2. 2.Liaoning Academy of Environmental SciencesShenyangChina
  3. 3.Landcare ResearchLincolnNew Zealand
  4. 4.Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil ScienceUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA

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