Chin J Plan Ecolo ›› 2016, Vol. 40 ›› Issue (6): 533-542.doi: 10.17521/cjpe.2015.0478


• Research Articles •     Next Articles

13C and 15N isotopic signatures of plant-soil continuum along a successional gradient in Dinghushan Biosphere Reserve

Xin XIONG1,2, Hui-Ling ZHANG1,2, Jian-Ping WU1,2, Guo-Wei CHU1, Guo-Yi ZHOU1, De-Qiang ZHANG1,*()   

  1. 1South China Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Guangzhou 510650, China

    2University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • Received:2015-12-29 Accepted:2016-04-23 Online:2016-06-15 Published:2016-06-30
  • Contact: De-Qiang ZHANG


Aims The optimal patterns of plant community for water use and nutrient utilization, the responses of soil carbon and nitrogen turnover processes to forest succession, and the mechanisms of soil organic carbon accumulation, are three critical issues in forest ecosystem study. It is difficult to accurately detect these ecological processes with conventional methodologies in the short term, yet the application of 13C and 15N natural abundance technique may yield important information about these processes.Methods This study was conducted in Dinghushan Biosphere Reserve. We investigated the natural isotopic abundance of both 13C and 15N of plant-soil continuum along a successional gradient from Pinus massoniana forest (PF) to coniferous and broad-leaved mixed forest (MF), and monsoon evergreen broad-leaved forest (BF). We also analyzed the correlations of foliar stable carbon isotope ratio (δ13C) and stable nitrogen isotope ratio (δ15N) with foliar elemental contents and the variations of soil δ13C and δ15N along soil profiles at different successional stages.Important findings A significant positive correlation between foliar δ13C and foliar C:N was observed. In both litter and soil, the δ13C values tended to decrease along the forest succession, with the order as PF > MF > BF. Foliar δ15N was positively correlated with foliar N content. The δ15N values of litter and upper soil (0-10 cm) increased with successional status. Both soil δ13C and δ15N values increased with increasing soil depth at all three forests. Our results imply that 1) trade-off between water use efficiency and nitrogen use efficiency did not necessarily exist in subtropical forests of China; 2) the application of isotopic technique could assist understanding of the mechanisms of soil carbon accumulation in subtropical forests, especially in old-grow forests; 3) the 15N natural abundance of plant-soil continuum could be a potential indicator of soil nitrogen availability and ecosystem nitrogen saturation status.

Key words: stable carbon isotope ratio, stable nitrogen isotope ratio, succession, forest, Dinghushan

Table 1

Differences in foliar carbon isotope ratio (δ13C) and nitrogen isotope ratio (δ15N) of common dominant species among different forest types"

Common species
Forest type
δ13C (‰)
δ15N (‰)
马尾松 Pinus massoniana 松林 Pine forest -29.28 (0.19) -5.15 (0.24)
混交林 Mixed forest -30.30 (0.10)** -4.07 (0.11)*
木荷 Schima superba 混交林 Mixed forest -30.77 (0.53) -3.56 (0.18)
阔叶林 Broad-leaved forest -29.19 (0.69) -5.41 (0.09)**
Castanopsis chinensis 混交林 Mixed forest -30.90 (0.21) -2.73 (0.41)
阔叶林 Broad-leaved forest -29.88 (0.79) -3.09 (0.57)
厚壳桂 Cryptocarya chinensis 混交林 Mixed forest -33.37 (0.12) -3.75 (0.21)
阔叶林 Broad-leaved forest -32.94 (0.35) -3.59 (0.40)

Fig. 1

Correlations of foliar stable carbon isotope ratio (δ13C) and stable nitrogen isotope ratio (δ15N) with foliar elemental contents."

Table 2

The stable carbon isotope ratio (δ13C) and stable nitrogen isotope ratio (δ15N) and the C:N of the litter from different forest types"

林型 Forest type 稳定碳同位素比率 δ13C (‰) 稳定氮同位素比率 δ15N (‰) 碳氮比 C:N
松林 Pine forest -28.84 (0.09)a -5.19 (0.08)b 46.11 (0.63)a
混交林 Mixed forest -29.78 (0.04)b -4.40 (0.06)ab 41.39 (0.42)b
阔叶林 Broad-leaved forest -30.43 (0.19)c -4.02 (0.52)a 31.73 (1.87)c

Table 3

Effects of forest type, soil layer and and their interaction on soil stable carbon isotope ratio (δ13C), stable nitrogen isotope ratio (δ15N), total organic carbon (TOC), readily oxidized organic carbon content (ROC), microbial biomass carbon content (MBC), total nitrogen content (TN) and the C to N ratio (C:N)"

Main effect or interaction
因变量 Dependent variable
稳定碳同位素比率 δ13C 稳定氮同位素比率 δ15N 土壤总有机碳生物 TOC 易氧化有机碳
含量 ROC
碳含量 MBC
林型 Forest type F2 = 96.39** F2 = 2.02 F2 = 54.74** F2 = 24.81** F2 = 15.34** F2 = 92.32** F2 = 25.77**
土层 Soil layer F3 = 53.77** F3 = 133.56** F3 = 233.24** F3 = 244.47** F3 = 23.74** F3 = 232.26** F3 = 162.36**
Forest type × soil layer
F11 = 3.00** F11 = 1.65 F11 = 7.47** F11 = 4.62** F11 = 1.83 F11 = 6.99** F11 = 4.90**

Fig. 2

Distribution characteristics of soil stable carbon isotope ratio (δ13C, A) and total organic carbon content (TOC, B) and stable nitrogen isotope ratio (δ15N, C) and total nitrogen content (TN, D) along soil profiles (mean ± SE). BF, broad-leaved forest; MF, mixed forest; PF, pine forest."

Fig. 3

Change of readily oxidized organic carbon content (ROC, A) and microbial biomass carbon content (MBC, B) and the C to N ratio (C:N, C) at different soil layers under different forests (mean ± SE). Different letters indicate significant differences among forests for the same soil layer at p < 0.05. BF, broad-leaved forest; MF, mixed forest; PF, pine forest."

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