Fractal features of sandy soil particle-size distributions during the rangeland desertification process on the eastern Qinghai-Tibet Plateau

  • Xiao Feng
  • Jianjun QuEmail author
  • Lihai Tan
  • Qingbin Fan
  • Qinghe Niu
Soils, Sec 5 • Soil and Landscape Ecology • Research Article



Fractal theory has been frequently applied to quantify soil particle-size distributions (PSDs) and evaluate soil degradation. Eolian desertification occurring on the eastern Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is threatening the ecological environment. It is essential to investigate the desertification process by adopting the concept of space as a substitute for time. Here, the fractal features of soil PSDs and their relationships with selected soil properties and wind erosion and deposition were studied.

Materials and methods

The tested soil samples were collected from rangelands with four different degrees of desertification (light, medium, severe, and extremely severe). Soil particle sizes were measured by a laser diffraction particle-size analyzer. Soil moisture and soil bulk density were determined by the soil weight difference before and after oven-drying for 8 h. Soil organic carbon was determined by the K2Cr2O7-H2SO4 oxidation method and soil total nitrogen was analyzed using the Kjeldahl digestion procedure. Wind tunnel experiments were conducted to simulate wind erosion and deposition during the desertification process. Values of the fractal dimension of soil PSDs were calculated using the volume-based fractal model. ANOVA with an LSD test and Pearson correlation analysis were used to analyze whether different parameters used in the fractal model influenced the results of the fractal dimensions and were reasonable to be applied.

Results and discussion

Different parameters, including the arithmetic mean size and the upper sieve size of two successive sieve sizes, values of Rmin, and the number of data points used in the fractal model, rarely influenced the results of the fractal dimensions (p > 0.05). The D values showed a significantly positive correlation with the clay and silt contents and a strong negative correlation with the sand contents. Along the degrees of desertification from light to extremely severe, the contents of clay, silt, and very fine sand decreased while the fine sand contents increased, and the D values decreased accordingly. Rangelands with heavier desertification and lower D values were more easily exposed to wind erosion, relating to the further loss of soil organic carbon, soil total nitrogen, and soil moisture and increased soil bulk density. The soil depth could affect soil PSDs and the selected soil properties of rangelands under light and medium degrees of desertification but rarely influenced those of severely and extremely severely desertified lands.


Different parameters, including the arithmetic mean size, the upper sieve size, values of Rmin, and the number of data points used in the fractal model, had no impacts on the results of the fractal dimensions, and were reasonable to be applied. We suggest the fractal dimension as an effective indicator to evaluate soil environment changes induced by desertification.


Fractal dimension Desertification process Soil particle-size distributions Soil properties Wind erosion and deposition 



This study was financially supported by The National Key Research and Development Program of China (grant No. 2017YFC0504804). The authors thank Yang Gao and Baicheng Niu for assistance with soil sampling in the field.


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Copyright information

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

Authors and Affiliations

  • Xiao Feng
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jianjun Qu
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lihai Tan
    • 1
  • Qingbin Fan
    • 1
    • 2
  • Qinghe Niu
    • 1
  1. 1.Dunhuang Gobi Desert Research Station, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and ResourcesChinese Academy of SciencesLanzhouChina
  2. 2.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

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