Plant communities, soil carbon, and soil nitrogen properties in a successional gradient of sub-alpine meadows on the eastern tibetan plateau of China

Wen Jin Li, Jin Hua Li*, Johannes M.H. Knops, Gang Wang, Ju Jie Jia, Yan Yan Qin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


To assess the recovery trajectory and self-maintenance of restored ecosystems, a successional gradient (1, 3, 5, 15, and 30 years after abandonment) was established in a sub-alpine meadow of the eastern Tibetan Plateau in China. Plant communities and soil carbon and nitrogen properties were investigated and analyzed. Regression analyses were used to assess the models (linear or quadratic) relating measures of species richness, soil carbon and nitrogen properties to fallow time. We found that species richness (S) increased over the first 20 years but decreased thereafter, and aboveground biomass showed a linear increase along the fallow time gradient. The richness of different functional groups (forb, grass and legume) changed little along the fallow time gradient, but their corresponding above ground biomass showed the U-shaped, humped or linear pattern. Soil microbial carbon (MBC) and nitrogen (MBN) in the upper 20 cm showed a U-shaped pattern along the fallow time gradient. However, soil organic carbon (C org) and total nitrogen (TN) in the soil at depth greater than 20 cm showed significant patterns of linear decline along the fallow time gradient. The threshold models of species richness reflected best the recovery over the 15 year fallow period. These results indicated that fallow time had a greater influence on development of the plant community than soil processes in abandoned fields in sub-alpine meadow ecosystem. These results also suggested that although the succession process did not significantly increase soil C, an increase in microbial biomass at the latter stage of succession could promote the decomposability of plant litter. Therefore, abandoned fields in sub-alpine meadow ecosystem may have a high resilience and strong rehabilitating capability under natural recovery condition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)755-765
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Management
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Fallow time gradient
  • Soil carbon
  • Soil nitrogen
  • Species richness
  • Sub-alpine meadow

Cite this