Journal of Mountain Science

, Volume 16, Issue 6, pp 1353–1366 | Cite as

Spatial variation and soil nitrogen potential hotspots in a mixed land cover catchment on the Chinese Loess Plateau

  • Yun-long Yu
  • Zhao JinEmail author
  • Henry Lin
  • Yun-qiang Wang
  • Ya-li Zhao
  • Guang-chen Chu
  • Jing Zhang
  • Yi Song
  • Han Zheng


Soil nitrogen (N) is critical to ecosystem services and environmental quality. Hotspots of soil N in areas with high soil moisture have been widely studied, however, their spatial distribution and their linkage with soil N variation have seldom been examined at a catchment scale in areas with low soil water content. We investigated the spatial variation of soil N and its hotspots in a mixed land cover catchment on the Chinese Loess Plateau and used multiple statistical methods to evaluate the effects of the critical environmental factors on soil N variation and potential hotspots. The results demonstrated that land cover, soil moisture, elevation, plan curvature and flow accumulation were the dominant factors affecting the spatial variation of soil nitrate (NN), while land cover and slope aspect were the most important factors impacting the spatial distribution of soil ammonium (AN) and total nitrogen (TN). In the studied catchment, the forestland, gully land and grassland were found to be the potential hotspots of soil NN, AN and TN accumulation, respectively. We concluded that land cover and slope aspect could be proxies to determine the potential hotspots of soil N at the catchment scale. Overall, land cover was the most important factor that resulted in the spatial variations of soil N. The findings may help us to better understand the environmental factors affecting soil N hotspots and their spatial variation at the catchment scale in terrestrial ecosystems.


Soil biogeochemistry Spatial heterogeneity Multivariate statistical analysis Environmental factors Loess Plateau 


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This study was financially supported by the National key research and development program (2017YFD0800502), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 41573067, 41790444, 41471189, 31700414).


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Copyright information

© Science Press, Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, CAS and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Loess and Quaternary Geology, Institute of Earth EnvironmentChinese Academy of SciencesXi’anChina
  2. 2.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.CAS Center for Excellence in Quaternary Science and Global ChangeChinese Academy of ScienceXi’anChina
  4. 4.Department of Ecosystem Science and Managementthe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  5. 5.Shaanxi Key Laboratory of Accelerator Mass Spectrometry and ApplicationXi’an AMS CenterXi’anChina
  6. 6.Key Laboratory of Subsurface Hydrology and Ecological Effect in Arid Region of Ministry of Education, School of Environmental Science and EngineeringChang’an UniversityXi’anChina

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