Spontaneous vegetation succession after agricultural abandonment is a general phenomenon in many areas of the world. As important indicators of nutrient status and biogeochemical cycling in ecosystems, the stoichiometry of key elements such as carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P) in soil and microbial biomass, and their responses to vegetation recolonization and succession after agricultural abandonment remain poorly understood. Here, based on a space-for-time substitution approach, surface soil samples (0–15 cm) were collected from four vegetation types, e.g., tussock grassland, shrubland, secondary forest, and primary forest, which represent four successional stages across this region. All samples were examined C, N and P concentrations and their ratios in soil and microbial biomass. The results showed that soil organic C and total N content increased synchronously but total soil P did not remarkably change along a progressive vegetation succession. Consequently, soil C:P and N:P ratios increased while C:N ratio stayed almost unchanged during vegetation succession. Soil microbial biomass C (SMBC) and microbial biomass N (SMBN) concentrations elevated while SMBP did not significantly change during vegetation succession. Unlike the soil C:N:P stoichiometry, however, microbial C:N and C:P ratios were significantly or marginally significantly greater in grassland than in the other three successional stages, while microbial N:P did not significantly vary across the four successional stages. Overall, the present study demonstrated that soil and microbial stoichiometry responded differently to secondary vegetation succession in a karst region of subtropical China.
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