Non-linear response of microbial activity across a gradient of nitrogen addition to a soil from the Gurbantunggut Desert, northwestern China

Xiaobing Zhou, Yuanming Zhang*, Alison Downing

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

68 Citations (Scopus)


Identifying the patterns of soil microbial responses to increasing nitrogen (N) availability are important since microbial processes are related to the potential nutrient transformations. The effects of the addition of N to the soil microbial community of the Gurbantunggut Desert, China, are described in this paper. The study was conducted over a two-year period with trials commencing at the beginning of each growing season. Soil enzyme activity, microbial biomass and microbial community level physiological profile (CLPP) were determined at 0-5cm and 5-10cm soil depths. Nitrogen was added to the soil at five rates plus a control, i.e. 0, 0.5, 1, 3, 6 and 24gNm -2y -1. We hypothesized that soil enzyme activities and microbial biomass N (MBN) would firstly increase and then decrease, and CLPP would be altered with increasing N addition, due to the deleterious effects of higher N addition upon microbial activity. Because of the relatively higher organic matter in the upper depth of soil layers, we further hypothesized that the responses of microbial activities in the 0-5cm depth would be more marked than at 5-10cm. In partial support of our hypothesis, soil enzyme activities, microbial biomass and nutrient concentrations responded to N addition with the most significant changes occurring in the 0-5cm soil depth. Addition of N resulted in an increase in MBN and a decrease in urease activity. Invertase and alkaline phosphatase (AlP) activities increased at low doses of N addition and showed a decrease at higher doses. There was no evidence of change in oxidative enzyme activity at low N treatments but activity decreased at high N additions. However, the CLPP was not affected by N addition. The results of this study suggest that N supplementation in this desert soil may affect C transformation, increase availability of N and P, and immobilize N in the microbial biomass. Responses of the enzyme activity to N supplementation occurred within the context of an apparently stable or unresponsive microbial community structure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-77
Number of pages11
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2012

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