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Journal of Arid Land  2021, Vol. 13 Issue (10): 1015-1025    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-021-0021-5
Research article     
Seasonal dynamics of soil water content in the typical vegetation and its response to precipitation in a semi-arid area of Chinese Loess Plateau
ZHOU Tairan1,2, HAN Chun1,2, QIAO Linjie1,2, REN Chaojie1,2, WEN Tao1,2, ZHAO Changming1,2,*()
1State Key Laboratory of Grassland and Agro-Ecosystems, School of Life Sciences, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou 730000, China
2Gansu Provincial Field Scientific Observation and Research Station of Mountain Ecosystems, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou 730000, China
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Soil water content is a key limiting factor for vegetation growth in the semi-arid area of Chinese Loess Plateau and precipitation is the main source of soil water content in this area. To further understand the impact of vegetation types and environmental factors such as precipitation on soil water content, we continuously monitored the seasonal dynamics in soil water content in four plots (natural grassland, Caragana korshinskii, Armeniaca sibirica and Pinus tabulaeformis) in Chinese Loess Plateau. The results show that the amplitude of soil water content fluctuation decreases with an increase in soil depth, showing obvious seasonal variations. Soil water content of artificial vegetation was found to be significantly lower than that of natural grassland, and most precipitation events have difficulty replenishing soil water content below a depth of 40 cm. Spring and autumn are the key seasons for replenishment of soil water by precipitation. Changes in soil water content are affected by precipitation, vegetation types, soil evaporation and other factors. The interception effect of vegetation on precipitation and the demand for water consumption by transpiration are the key factors affecting the efficiency of soil water replenishment by precipitation in this area. Due to artificial vegetation plantation in this area, soil will face a water deficit crisis in the future.

Key wordssoil water content      vegetation type      precipitation      seasonal change      evaporation     
Received: 30 June 2021      Published: 10 October 2021
Corresponding Authors: *ZHAO Changming (E-mail:
Cite this article:

ZHOU Tairan, HAN Chun, QIAO Linjie, REN Chaojie, WEN Tao, ZHAO Changming. Seasonal dynamics of soil water content in the typical vegetation and its response to precipitation in a semi-arid area of Chinese Loess Plateau. Journal of Arid Land, 2021, 13(10): 1015-1025.

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Fig. 1 Landscape of natural grassland (a), Caragana korshinskii (b), Armeniaca sibirica (c) and Pinus tabulaeformis (d)
Index Natural grassland Caragana korshinskii Armeniaca sibirica Pinus tabulaeformis
Stand age (a) - 56 50 50
Altitude (m) 2050 2084 2156 2120
Slope (°) 15 20 15 18
Aspect Southeast Southeast Southeast West
Total vegetation coverage (%) 95 57 50 75
Dominant species A. sacrorum,
Ajania fruticulosa,
Stipa bungeana
A. sacrorum,
Caragana jubata,
Achnatherum splendens
A. sacrorum,
Ajania fruticulosa,
Stipa capillata
A. sacrorum,
Stipa bungeana,
Aster altaicus
Understory vegetation
coverage (%)
- 22 25 15
Bulk density (g/cm3) 1.19±0.05 0.98±0.07 1.07±0.04 1.08±0.05
Clay (%) 8.36±1.68 7.77±0.37 6.37±0.94 6.86±0.89
Silt (%) 81.25±4.28 78.83±1.63 74.61±0.5 75.69±0.83
Sand (%) 10.39±2.69 13.39±1.64 19.01±1.07 17.45±1.66
Table 1 Information of vegetation and soil of the sample plot
Fig. 2 Frequency (a) and amount (b) of precipitation in each season
Sample plot Soil depth (cm) Average (%) Maximum (%) Minimum (%) SD (%) CV (%)
Natural grassland
10 21.38c 34.24 12.40 3.66 17.13
20 23.93a 33.47 17.50 2.75 11.51
40 20.12c 25.62 14.06 2.96 14.70
60 17.61e 20.20 11.72 2.45 13.93
80 14.20g 17.02 10.31 2.00 14.07
C. korshinskii
10 18.53d 33.51 11.79 4.20 22.64
20 20.87c 30.22 12.61 4.79 22.95
40 9.87j 15.21 4.93 2.98 30.17
60 9.25k 12.76 6.42 1.73 18.70
80 8.27l 9.70 6.93 0.47 5.74
A. sibirica
10 17.40e 30.66 10.11 4.78 27.45
20 18.57d 27.32 12.53 3.53 19.00
40 12.69i 18.21 8.12 2.57 20.27
60 4.25n 4.94 3.03 0.42 9.96
80 4.79m 6.41 3.03 0.96 20.15
P. tabulaeformis
10 13.21h 30.02 5.64 4.73 35.82
20 20.24c 37.49 11.71 4.05 19.99
40 23.01b 31.71 14.72 2.90 12.62
60 16.34f 19.28 10.58 2.60 15.88
80 8.15l 11.52 3.85 2.30 28.26
Table 2 Statistical values of soil water content in the four plots
Fig. 3 Daily time series of precipitation (a), air temperature (f), vapor pressure deficit (f) and soil water content in natural grassland, C. korshinskii, A. sibirica, and P. tabulaeformis plots at soil depths of 10 (a), 20 (b), 40 (c), 60 (d) and 80 cm (e)
Fig. 4 Response of soil water content to precipitation events (6.8, 18.4 and 25.1 mm) in different soil depths of the four plots. (a1-a3), natural grassland; (b1-b3), C. korshinskii; (c1-c3), A. sibirica; (d1-d3), P. tabulaeformis. P, precipitation.
Season Plot Average (cm) SD (cm) CV (%)
Natural grassland 18.20a 0.81 4.43
C. korshinskii 11.67e 1.08 9.24
A. sibirica 9.34k 1.02 10.89
P. tabulaeformis 15.49c 1.02 6.60
Natural grassland 15.41c 1.95 12.62
C. korshinskii 10.01i 1.88 18.80
A. sibirica 8.72k 1.91 21.93
P. tabulaeformis 13.00e 2.67 20.55
Natural grassland 18.38a 0.40 2.18
C. korshinskii 13.40d 0.36 2.71
A. sibirica 11.36g 0.56 4.96
P. tabulaeformis 15.68c 0.77 4.91
Natural grassland 16.75c 0.89 5.29
C. korshinskii 10.49h 1.42 13.50
A. sibirica 9.57j 0.82 8.55
P. tabulaeformis 13.91c 0.81 5.82
Natural grassland 17.18b 1.67 9.72
C. korshinskii 11.39f 1.85 16.21
A. sibirica 9.74j 1.54 15.82
P. tabulaeformis 14.52c 1.90 13.07
Table 3 Statistical value of soil water storage capacity during experimental period
Fig. 5 Response model of change of soil water storage to precipitation
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