Journal of Arid Land

Article Title

Long-term effects of gravel―sand mulch on soil orga­nic carbon and nitrogen in the Loess Plateau of nort­h­w­estern China


Gravel–sand mulch has been used for centuries to conserve water in the Loess Plateau of north­western China. In this study, we assessed the influence of long-term (1996–2012) gravel–sand mulching of cultiv­ated soils on total organic carbon (TOC), light fraction organic carbon (LFOC), microbial biomass carbon (MBC), total organic nitrogen (TON), particulate organic carbon (POC), mineral-associated organic carbon (MOC), perma­nganate-oxidizable carbon (KMnO4-C), and non-KMnO4-C at 0–60 cm depths. Mulching durations were 7, 11 and 16 years, with a non-mulched control. Compared to the control, there was no significant and consistently positive effect of the mulch on TOC, POC, MOC, KMnO4-C and non-KMnO4-C before 11 years of mulching, and these organic C fractions generally decreased significantly by 16 years. LFOC, TON and MBC to at a 0–20 cm depth increased with increasing mulching duration until 11 years, and then these fractions decreased significantly between 11 and 16 years, reaching values comparable to or lower than those in the control. KMnO4-C was most strongly correlated with the labile soil C fractions. Our findings suggest that although gravel–sand mulch may conserve soil moisture, it may also lead to long-term decreases in labile soil organic C fractions and total organic N in the study area. The addition of manure or composted manure would be a good choice to reverse the soil deterioration that occurs after 11 years by increasing the inputs of organic matter.


gravel mulch; mulching duration; permanganate-oxidizable carbon; light fraction organic carbon; microbial biomass carbon

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