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Journal of Arid Land  2021, Vol. 13 Issue (9): 934-946    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-021-0019-z
Research article     
Response of C:N:P in the plant-soil system and stoichiometric homeostasis of Nitraria tangutorum leaves in the oasis-desert ecotone, Northwest China
WEI Yajuan1,2, DANG Xiaohong1,2,3, WANG Ji1,2,3,*(), GAO Junliang4, GAO Yan1,2
1Institute of Desert Control Science and Engineering, Inner Mongolia Agricultural University, Hohhot 010018, China
2Key Laboratory of State Forest Administration for Desert Ecosystem Protection and Restoration, Hohhot 010018, China
3Inner Mongolia Hangjin Desert Ecological Research Station, Erdos 017400, China
4Experimental Center of Desert Forestry, Chinese Academy of Forestry, Dengkou 015200, China
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Nitraria tangutorum nebkhas are widely distributed in the arid and semi-arid desert areas of China. The formation and development of N. tangutorum nebkhas are the result of the interaction between vegetation and the surrounding environment in the process of community succession. Different successional stages of N. tangutorum nebkhas result in differences in the community structure and composition, thereby strongly affecting the distribution of soil nutrients and ecosystem stability. However, the ecological stoichiometry of N. tangutorum nebkhas in different successional stages remains poorly understood. Understanding the stoichiometric homeostasis of N. tangutorum could provide insights into its adaptability to the arid and semi-arid desert environments. Therefore, we analyzed the stoichiometric characteristics of N. tangutorum in four successional stages, i.e., rudimental, developing, stabilizing, and degrading stages using a homeostasis model in an oasis-desert ecotone of Northwest China. The results showed that soil organic carbon (SOC), total nitrogen (TN), and total phosphorus (TP) contents and their ratios in the 0-100 cm soil depth were significantly lower than the averages at regional and global scales and were weakly influenced by successional stages in the oasis-desert ecotone. TN and TP contents and C:N:P in the soil showed similar trends. Total carbon (TC) and TN contents in leaves were 450.69-481.07 and 19.72-29.35 g/kg, respectively, indicating that leaves of N. tangutorum shrubs had a high storage capacity for C and N. Leaf TC and TN contents and N:P ratio increased from the rudimental stage to the stabilizing stage and then decreased in the degrading stage, while the reverse trend was found for leaf C:N. Leaf TP content decreased from the rudimental stage to the degrading stage and changed significantly in late successional stages. N:P ratio was above the theoretical limit of 14, indicating that the growth of N. tangutorum shrubs was limited by P during successional stages. Leaf N, P, and N:P homeostasis in four successional stages was identified as ''strictly homeostasis''. Redundancy analysis (RDA) revealed that soil acidity (pH) and the maximum water holding capacity were the main factors affecting C:N:P stoichiometric characteristics in N. tangutorum leaves. Our study demonstrated that N. tangutorum with a high degree of stoichiometric homeostasis could better cope with the arid desert environment.

Key wordsnebkhas      ecological stoichiometry      ecological adaptability      successional stages      arid area     
Received: 29 December 2020      Published: 10 September 2021
Corresponding Authors: WANG Ji     E-mail:
Cite this article:

WEI Yajuan, DANG Xiaohong, WANG Ji, GAO Junliang, GAO Yan. Response of C:N:P in the plant-soil system and stoichiometric homeostasis of Nitraria tangutorum leaves in the oasis-desert ecotone, Northwest China. Journal of Arid Land, 2021, 13(9): 934-946.

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Fig. 1 Mean precipitation and temperature in different years (a) and months (b) of the study area
Successional stage Long axis
Short axis
Plant height
Death rate of branches (%) Coverage
Species number Plant species Plant shape
Rudimental stage 3.95±0.47b 3.22±0.44b 0.59±0.03c 33.33±1.11d 0.00c 34.00±2.67c 2 N. tangutorum,
Agriophyllum squarrosum
Irregular shape
Developing stage 5.03±0.50ab 4.02±0.25ab 0.81±0.06b 72.00±2.00a 9.00±1.33bc 45.67±2.89b 3 N. tangutorum,
Artemisa arenaria,
A. squarrosum
Stabilizing stage 6.17±0.42a 4.48±0.21a 1.32±0.05a 61.33±2.89b 21.33±2.4b 60.33±3.11a 4 N. tangutorum,
A. arenaria,
Elymus dahuricus, A. squarrosum
5.08±0.61ab 4.51±0.20a 0.92±0.09b 43.00±2.67c 53.33±7.78a 35.67±4.22bc 3 N. tangutorum,
A. arenaria,
A. squarrosum
Table 1 Characteristics of Nitraria tangutorum nebkhas in different successional stages
Fig. 2 Stoichiometric characteristics of C (a), N (b), and P (c) and their ratios (d-f) at different soil depths and successional stages. SOC, soil organic carbon; TN, total nitrogen; TP, total phosphorus; bars indicate standard deviations. Different uppercase letters represent significant differences among different successional stages within the same soil depth (P<0.05 level); and different lowercase letters represent significant differences among different soil depths within the same successional stage (P<0.05 level).
Successional stage TC (g/kg) TN (g/kg) TP (g/kg) C:N C:P N:P
Rudimental stage 461.18±4.70B 19.72±1.54B 1.36±0.10A 23.46±1.75A 363.95±47.08B 15.45±2.84B
Developing stage 480.57±15.78A 27.33±2.29A 1.33±0.05A 18.49±3.03B 368.58±27.69B 21.08±0.69A
Stabilizing stage 481.07±5.68A 29.35±4.76A 1.24±0.04B 16.91±3.23B 397.65±29.52B 24.22±4.12A
Degrading stage 450.69±1.75B 23.01±1.48B 1.03±0.04C 19.67±1.27B 450.74±31.00A 23.05±2.63A
Table 2 Stoichiometric characteristics of leaf total carbon (TC), total nitrogen (TN), and total phosphorus (TP) and their ratios in different successional stages
Fig. 3 Relationships between log10-transformed nutrient contents and stoichiometry of N and P in the leaves of N. tangutorum in different successional stages
Fig. 4 Redundancy analysis result of relationships between leaf C:N:P stoichiometric characteristics and soil physical-chemical factors. SOC, soil organic carbon; TN, total nitrogen; TC, total carbon; TP, total phosphorus.
Soil physical-chemical factor Interpretation (%) Contribution (%) Importance sequencing F P
pH 19.7 42.8 1 8.3 0.004
Soil maximum water holding capacity 8.1 17.5 2 3.7 0.046
Soil SOC 1.5 3.4 3 0.7 0.444
Soil N:P 1.2 2.5 4 0.5 0.456
Soil C:N 2.2 4.7 5 1.0 0.314
Soil bulk density 1.7 3.6 6 0.7 0.376
Soil moisture 3.5 7.7 7 1.6 0.214
Soil TN 1.4 2.9 8 0.6 0.504
Soil TP 4.3 9.3 9 2.0 0.162
Soil C:P 2.4 5.3 10 1.1 0.298
Capillary porosity 0.1 0.2 11 0.1 0.934
Table 3 Importance sequencing and Duncan's test of soil physical-chemical factors
Particle fraction Successional stage
Rudimental stage Developing stage Stabilizing stage Degrading stage
Clay content (%) 0.82±0.24c 1.23±0.32c 3.89±0.47a 2.54±0.11b
Silt content (%) 3.12±0.77b 5.22±1.23a 5.12±1.82a 4.12±1.33b
Sand content (%) 96.13±0.11a 93.45±0.59a 91.84±1.25a 93.72±1.52a
Table 4 Partical fraction in the topsoil of Nitraria tangutorum nebkhas in different successional stages
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