Vegetation change alters soil profile δ15N values at the landscape scale Academic Article uri icon


  • © 2018 Elsevier Ltd The assessment of spatial variation in soil δ15N could provide integrative insights on soil N cycling processes across multiple spatial scales. However, little is known about spatial patterns of δ15N within soil profiles in arid and semiarid ecosystems, especially those undergoing vegetation change with a distinct shift in dominance and/or functional type. We quantified how changes from grass to woody plant dominance altered spatial patterns of δ15N throughout a 1.2 m soil profile by collecting 320 spatially-specific soil cores in a 160 m × 100 m subtropical savanna landscape that has undergone encroachment by Prosopis glandulosa (an N2-fixer) during the past century. Leaf δ15N was comparable among different plant life-forms, while fine roots from woody species had significantly lower δ15N than herbaceous species across this landscape. Woody encroachment significantly decreased soil δ15N throughout the entire soil profile, and created horizontal spatial patterns of soil δ15N that strongly resembled the spatial distribution of woody patches and were evident within each depth increment. The lower soil δ15N values that characterized areas beneath woody canopies were mostly due to the encroaching woody species, especially the N2-fixer P. glandulosa, which delivered 15N-depleted organic matter via root turnover throughout the soil profile. Soil δ15N increased with depth, reached maximum values at intermediate depths, and slightly decreased at greater depths. This vertical pattern may be related to the decrease of 15N-depleted organic matter inputs with depth, and to the presence of a subsurface clay-rich argillic horizon at intermediate depths across this landscape, which may favor the accumulation of 15N-enriched residues. These results indicate that succession from grassland to woodland has altered the spatial variation in soil δ15N across the landscape and to considerable depth, suggesting significant changes in the relative rates of N-inputs vs. N-losses in this subtropical system after vegetation change.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 1

author list (cited authors)

  • Zhou, Y., Mushinski, R. M., Hyodo, A., Ben Wu, X., & Boutton, T. W.

citation count

  • 13

complete list of authors

  • Zhou, Yong||Mushinski, Ryan M||Hyodo, Ayumi||Ben Wu, X||Boutton, Thomas W

publication date

  • April 2018