Aims Variations in temperature and snow accumulations in winter will change the structure and function of the soil-microbial system. As a key biological factor in the terrestrial ecosystem, microorganisms play an important role in regulating soil nutrient cycles. However, they are very sensitive to environmental disturbances, especially to winter climate changes. It is in great need to study the response of soil nutrients and microbial properties of typical semi-arid grasslands to climate change in winter, in order to predict the ecological process and functional changes of grassland ecosystem in the long term.
Methods In the present study, the semi-arid grassland in the Yunwushan National Nature Reserve in Ningxia Province was taken as the research object. The four treatments including warming (W), snow reduction (S), interaction of warming and snow reduction (WS), and control (CK) were set to explore the responses of soil nutrients, enzyme activities and soil bacterial communities in the 0-5 cm soil layer of the typical grassland of the Loess Plateau to variations in winter temperature and snow cover.
Important findings Our results indicated that: (1) Warming, snow reduction and their interaction in winter increased the 0-5 cm soil temperature, lowered the relative humidity of the soil, but significantly increased the number of soil freeze-thaw cycles. (2) Compared with the control, other different treatments generally reduced the microbial biomass and bacterial diversity, which led to reduced activity of soil β-1,4-glucosidase (BG), β-1,4-N-acetylglucosaminidase (NAG) and alkaline phosphatase (AKP). The content of soil organic carbon, total nitrogen, available phosphorus, and nitrate nitrogen in the soil increased, while the content of nitrate nitrogen decreased. (3) The soil bacterial species in the study area were mainly Acidobacteria, Proteobacteria, Actinobacteria and Gemmatimonadetes. The dominant bacteria at the class level included Acidobacteria, γ-Proteobacteria, Thermophiles and σ-Proteobacteria. Redundancy analysis (RDA) results showed that available phosphorus (AP) content had the most significant impact on the bacterial community composition, with an explanation rate of 21.3% for the community variation. In conclusion, winter climate change can significantly affect soil temperature and humidity, especially the freezing and thawing cycles, which might further influence soil nutrients cycles, enzyme activities, and soil bacterial diversity. These results are of great significance for enriching and expanding the understanding of the process and mechanism of climate change on grassland ecosystem, as well as predicting the mid and long-term dynamic changes of typical grassland ecosystems.