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Journal of Arid Land  2020, Vol. 12 Issue (4): 701-715    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-020-0069-7
Research article     
Cultivation effects on soil texture and fertility in an arid desert region of northwestern China
Mingzhu HE1,*(), Xibin JI1, Dongsheng BU2, Jinhu ZHI3
1 Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou 730000, China
2 Institute of Agricultural Sciences of the 1st Division, Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, Aral 843300, China
3 College of Plant Science, Tarim University, Aral 843300, China
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In arid desert regions of northwestern China, reclamation and subsequent irrigated cultivation have become effective ways to prevent desertification, expand arable croplands, and develop sustainable agricultural production. Improvement in soil texture and fertility is crucial to high soil quality and stable crop yield. However, knowledge on the long-term effects of the conversion of desert lands into arable croplands is very limited. To address this problem, we conducted this study in an arid desert region of northwestern China to understand the changes in soil physical-chemical properties after 0, 2, 5, 10, 17, and 24 years of cultivation. Our results showed that silt and clay contents at the 17-year-old sites increased 17.5 and 152.3 folds, respectively, compared with that at the 0-year-old sites. The soil aggregate size fraction and its stability exhibited an exponential growth trend with increasing cultivation ages, but no significant change was found for the proportion of soil macroaggregates (>5.00 mm) during the 17 years of cultivation. The soil organic carbon (SOC) content at the 24-year-old sites was 6.86 g/kg and increased 8.8 folds compared with that at the 0-year-old sites. The total (or available) nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium contents showed significant increasing trends and reached higher values after 17 (or 24) years of cultivation. Changes in soil physical-chemical properties successively experienced slow, rapid, and stable development stages, but some key properties (such as soil aggregate stability and SOC) were still too low to meet the sustainable agricultural production. The results of this long-term study indicated that reasonable agricultural management, such as expanding no-tillage land area, returning straw to the fields, applying organic fertilizer, reducing chemical fertilizer application, and carrying out soil testing for formula fertilization, is urgently needed in arid desert regions.

Key wordsreclamation      soil physical-chemical properties      soil aggregate stability      mean weight diameter (MWD)      water stable aggregate percentage (WSAP)      principal component analysis (PCA)     
Received: 14 February 2020      Published: 10 July 2020
Corresponding Authors: Mingzhu HE     E-mail:
About author: *Corresponding author: HE Mingzhu (E-mail:

The first and second authors contributed equally to this work.

Cite this article:

HE Mingzhu, JI Xibin, BU Dongsheng, ZHI Jinhu. Cultivation effects on soil texture and fertility in an arid desert region of northwestern China. Journal of Arid Land, 2020, 12(4): 701-715.

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Fig. 1 Geographical location of the study area in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of northwestern China (a) and overview of the sampling locations (b) from the Google Earth images. Numbers ①-⑥ represent arable croplands with 0, 2, 5, 10, 17, and 24 years of cultivation, respectively.
Table 1 Soil physical-chemical properties of the sites with different cultivation ages
Fig. 2 Exponential relationships between sites with different cultivation ages and MWD (a) and between sites with different cultivation ages and WSAP (b). MWD, mean weight diameter; WSAP, water stable aggregate percentage. *** means that the coefficient of determination is at the P<0.001 level.
Soil physical-chemical properties PC1 PC2 PC3
Clay 0.301 0.925 -0.146
Silt 0.363 0.876 -0.181
Sand -0.358 -0.882 0.178
Bulk density -0.496 0.095 -0.202
A0.25 0.871 0.316 -0.043
A0.50 0.875 0.062 0.033
A1.00 0.848 0.173 -0.313
A2.00 0.889 0.136 -0.187
A5.00 0.598 0.442 0.366
MWD 0.942 0.194 -0.133
WSAP 0.955 0.200 -0.102
SOC 0.773 0.442 -0.188
TN 0.617 0.524 -0.069
TP 0.621 0.559 -0.292
TK -0.023 0.904 0.121
AN 0.372 0.799 -0.237
AP 0.861 0.048 -0.063
AK -0.080 0.945 -0.037
pH -0.265 -0.207 0.838
Total variation explained 40.6% 32.6% 8.4%
Table 2 Correlation coefficients between soil physical-chemical properties and the three principal component analysis (PCA) axes and the total variation explained by the three PCA axes
Fig. 3 Principal component analysis (PCA) showing loading values of soil physical-chemical properties for the first component (PC1) and the second component (PC2) axes (a) and the PC1 and the third component (PC3) axes (b); and the score plots of the cultivated and uncultivated sites with different cultivation ages along with the PC1 and PC2 axes (c) and the PC1 and PC3 axes (d). Error bars show the standard errors (n=6). BD, bulk density; SOC, soil organic carbon; TN, total nitrogen; TP, total phosphorus; TK, total potassium; AN, available nitrogen; AP, available phosphorus; AK, available potassium. A0.25, A0.50, A1.00, A2.00, and A5.00 refer to soil aggregate size fractions of 0.25-0.50, 0.50-1.00, 1.00-2.00, 2.00-5.00, and >5.00 mm, respectively.
Fig. 4 Dendrogram results from the Ward's method of hierarchical cluster analysis for the cultivated and uncultivated sites. The values of 5.05, 7.62, and 10.27 refer to the rescaled distances for the different cluster combinations. Each cropland sampling location (including the control) had six replicates. The curve with crosses in the figure represents the stages of cluster combined.
Fig. S1 Linear relationships between soil aggregate stability (MWD and WSAP) and soil particle size fractions (sand, clay, and silt) of the cultivated sites. MWD, mean weight diameter; WSAP, water stable aggregate percentage. *** indicates significant correlation at P<0.001 level.
Fig. S2 Correlation coefficient matrix of soil physical-chemical properties. The red line denotes the linear relationship between each of two soil properties, and the red shadow denotes the confidence level of 95%.
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