Thresholds in decoupled soil-plant elements under changing climatic conditions

Wentao Luo, Jordi Sardans, Feike A. Dijkstra, Josep Peñuelas, Xiao Tao Lü, Honghui Wu, Mai He Li, Edith Bai, Zhengwen Wang, Xingguo Han, Yong Jiang

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

    18 Citations (Scopus)


    © 2016, Springer International Publishing Switzerland. Background and aims: Aridity has increased in the past decades and will probably continue to increase in arid and semiarid regions. Here we decipher the plant and soil capacity to retain metal cations when climate evolves to more arid conditions. Methods: We analyzed K, Na, Ca, Mg, Fe, Mn, Zn and Cu concentrations in 580 soil samples and 666 plant (shoot and root) samples along a 3600 km aridity gradient in northern China. Results: The concentrations of soil exchangeable K, Mg, Mn, Fe and Cu clearly decreased with increasing aridity due to the relationships of aridity with soil clay content and soil pH. Increases in exchangeable Na and Ca concentrations at mid- and high-aridity levels are probably due to the soil salinization, whereas increased exchangeable Fe concentrations at extreme levels of aridity may be more related to a reduced pH. Element concentrations in both plant shoots and roots were unrelated to soil exchangeable element concentrations; instead they increased monotonously with increasing aridity, corresponding with decreases in plant size and shoot/root ratios. The shoot/root mineralomass ratios in general increased with increasing aridity. The proportional higher element contents in shoots than in roots with increasing aridity are related to increased water uptake and/or use efficiency. Conclusions: The extractability of soil elements in response to changing climate varied with the nature of specific elements that are controlled by biological and geochemical processes, i.e., some decreased linearly with increasing aridity, whereas others first decreased and then increased with different thresholds. These contrasting effects of aridity on nutrient availability could further constrain plant growth and should be incorporated into biogeochemical models. The prevailing paradigm of a positive relationship between concentrations of plant and soil elements needs to be reconsidered under changing climatic conditions.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)159-173
    JournalPlant and Soil
    Issue number1-2
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016


    • Aridity
    • Biogeochemical cycles
    • Clay
    • Climate change
    • Soil pH
    • Threshold


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