Natural revegetation has been reported to play a very active role in ecosystem carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) sinks in degenerated ecosystems. However, the responses of C and N sequestration and stabilization in soil organic matter (SOM) to natural revegetation remain inadequately understood. In this study, we analyzed C and N contents and δ13C and δ15N values of SOM, free light fraction (FLF), intra-aggregate particulate organic matter (IPOM) and mineral-associated organic matter (MAOM) along ∼ 160 years of natural revegetation on the Loess Plateau of China. The results showed that natural revegetation significantly (P < 0.05) enhanced soil C and N contents in FLF, IPOM, MAOM, SOM in the surface soil (0–20 cm) during the later stages of revegetation, which exhibited smaller impact on the deeper soil (20–60 cm). Natural revegetation significantly increased distribution proportions of C and N in FLF (i.e., 18.00–36.00%, 8.46–22.57%, respectively), and that in IPOM (i.e., from 11.60 to 25.38%, 10.89–26.92%, respectively), while it decreased that in MAOM (i.e., from 56.25 to 37.00%, 67.69–50.24%, respectively) in the surface soil, thereby altering C and N stabilization in SOM (0–20 cm). The climax Quercus liaotungensis forest exhibited the highest C distribution proportion in FLF and IPOM, and the lowest C distribution proportion in MAOM in the surface soil. The δ13C and δ15N were enriched with the decomposition of SOM and soil profile depths at each revegetation stage. The highest δ13C and δ15N values (0–60 cm) and the lowest C:N ratio (0–20 cm) of SOM, FLF, and IPOM were found in the farmland. In conclusion, ∼160 years of natural revegetation substantially promoted C and N sequestration in SOM, whereas altered C and N stabilization in SOM of the surface soil through shifting C and N towards more non-protected and pure physically protected SOM fractions rather than the most stable MAOM. Meanwhile, soil δ13C and δ15N in SOM and its fraction were changed along with natural revegetation. The most enriched soil δ15N in the farmland implied that soil N cycle in the farmland was more open to N losses relative to the other revegetation stages.
- 13C and 15N
- C and N stabilization
- Density and size fractionation
- Mineral-associated organic matter
- Vegetation restoration
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Earth-Surface Processes