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Deepened snow cover mitigates soil carbon loss from intensive land use in a semi-arid temperate grassland

Citation

Li, Ping et al. (2021), Deepened snow cover mitigates soil carbon loss from intensive land use in a semi-arid temperate grassland, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.n02v6wwzj

Abstract

Carbon (C) loss due to soil erosion is a major issue in semi-arid grasslands. The extent of soil erosion is determined by soil properties and vegetation structure, especially during the non-growing season. In many Inner Mongolian grasslands, intensive land use, such as overgrazing and mowing, has severely reduced plant cover and damaged soil structure, which has exacerbated soil C loss by erosion. At the same time, increasing winter snowfall due to climate change is stimulating plant growth and altering plant composition. However, we do not know how changes in winter snow cover interact with land-use practices to regulate soil C loss due to erosion.

Here, we conducted a six-year snow manipulation experiment under different land-use practices (control; moderately mowed, MM; heavily mowed, HM) to measure net changes in soil depth, soil C, plant biomass, and vegetation structure.

After six years, soil C loss under ambient snow was three times greater in the MM and four times greater in the HM treatment compared with controls during non-growing season. However, deepened winter snow alleviated erosion-induced soil C loss by 14%, 47%, 16% in the controls, MM and HM treatments, respectively.

The severity of soil C loss declined with increasing aboveground biomass (AGB), surface root biomass and vegetation structure. Vegetation structure and AGB explained more of the variation in soil C loss than surface root biomass, possibly because a complex canopy and plant cover increases overall surface roughness, thereby reducing soil C loss. Intensified land use reduced AGB, surface root biomass and vegetation structure, but deepened snow increased overall surface roughness by promoting AGB. Hence, our study demonstrates that deepened snow can alleviate soil C loss due to land use practices by promoting AGB.