Land reclamation influences the soil carbon and nitrogen cycling, but its scale and time effects on the balance of soil carbon and nitrogen are still uncertain. Taking the Tarim Basin as the study area, the impact of land reclamation on the soil organic carbon (SOC), total nitrogen (TN), and carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio was explored by the multiple temporal changes of land use and soil samples. Remote sensing detected that cropland nearly doubled in area from 1978 to 2015. Spatial analysis techniques were used to identify land changes, including the prior land uses and cultivation ages. Using land reclamation history information, a specially designed soil sampling was conducted in 2015 and compared to soil properties in ca. 1978. Results found a decoupling characteristic between the C:N ratio and SOC or TN, indicating that changes in SOC and TN do not correspond directly to changes in the C:N ratio. The land reclamation history coupled with the baseline effect has opposite impacts on the temporal rates of change in SOC, TN and C:N ratios. SOC and TN decreased during the initial stage of conversion to cropland and subsequently recovered with increasing cultivation time. By contrast, the C:N ratio for soils derived from grassland increased at the initial stage but the increase declined when cultivated longer, and the C:N ratio decreased for soils derived from forest and fluctuated with the cultivation time. Lower C:N ratios than the global average and its decreasing trend with increasing reclamation age were found in newly reclaimed croplands from grasslands. Sustainable agricultural management practices are suggested to enhance the accumulation of soil carbon and nitrogen, as well as to increase the C:N ratio to match the nitrogen deposition to a larger carbon sequestration.
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