Global patterns and controlling factors of soil nitrification rate

Zhaolei Li, Zhaoqi Zeng, Dashuan Tian, Jinsong Wang, Zheng Fu, Fangyue Zhang, Ruiyang Zhang, Weinan Chen, Yiqi Luo, Shuli Niu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

152 Scopus citations


Soil nitrification, an important pathway of nitrogen transformation in ecosystems, produces soil nitrate that influences net primary productivity, while the by-product of nitrification, nitrous oxide, is a significant greenhouse gas. Although there have been many studies addressing the microbiology, physiology, and impacting environment factors of soil nitrification at local scales, there are very few studies on soil nitrification rate over large scales. We conducted a global synthesis on the patterns and controlling factors of soil nitrification rate normalized at 25°C by compiling 3,140 observations from 186 published articles across terrestrial ecosystems. Soil nitrification rate tended to decrease with increasing latitude, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, and varied largely with ecosystem types. The soil nitrification rate significantly increased with mean annual temperature (MAT), soil nitrogen content, microbial biomass carbon and nitrogen, soil ammonium, and soil pH, but decreased with soil carbon:nitrogen and carbon:nitrogen of microbial biomass. The total soil nitrogen content contributed the most to the variations of global soil nitrification rate (total coefficient = 0.29) in structural equation models. The microbial biomass nitrogen (MBN; total coefficient = 0.19) was nearly of equivalent importance relative to MAT (total coefficient = 0.25) and soil pH (total coefficient = 0.24) in determining soil nitrification rate, while soil nitrogen and pH influenced soil nitrification via changing soil MBN. Moreover, the emission of soil nitrous oxide was positively related to soil nitrification rate at a global scale. This synthesis will advance our current understanding on the mechanisms underlying large-scale variations of soil nitrification and benefit the biogeochemical models in simulating global nitrogen cycling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4147-4157
Number of pages11
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020


  • climate
  • microbial biomass
  • nitrogen cycle
  • soil nitrification rate
  • soil pH

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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