The influence of biological soil crusts on 15N translocation in soil and vascular plant in a temperate desert of northwestern China

WeiWei Zhuang, Alison Downing, YuanMing Zhang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Aims: Desert ecosystems are often characterized by patchy distribution of vascular plants, with biological soil crusts (BSC) covering interplant spaces. However, few studies have comprehensively examined the linkage between BSC and vascular plants through nitrogen (N) or element translocation. The objective of this study was to evaluate the ecological roles of BSC on N translocation from soil to the dominant herb Erodium oxyrrhynchum Bieb. (Geraniaceae) in a temperate desert in China. 

Methods: Isotopes (including 15N-Glu, 15N-NH4Cl and 15N-NaNO3) were used as a tracer to detect translocation of N in two types of desert soil (BSC covered; bare) to the dominant herb E. oxyrrhynchum. Three different forms of 15N-enriched N compounds were applied as a point source to small patches of BSC and to bare soil. And we measured isotopes (14N and 15N) and obtained the concentration of labeled-15N in both vascular plants and soils at different distances from substrate application 

Important Findings: Plants of E. oxyrrhynchum growing in BSC-covered plots accumulated more δ15N than those growing in the bare soil. Similarly, soil from BSC-covered plots showed a higher concentration of labeled-N irrespective of form of isotope, than did the bare soil. The concentration of dissolved organic N (15N-Glu) in E. oxyrrhynchum was higher than that of dissolved inorganic N (15N-NH4Cl and 15N-NaNO3). Soil covered by BSC also accumulated considerably more dissolved organic N than bare soil, whereas the dominant form of 15N concentrated in bare soil was dissolved inorganic N. Correlation analysis showed that the concentration of labeled-N in plants was positively related to the concentration of labeled-N in soils and the N% recorded in E. oxyrrhynchum. Our study supports the hypothesis that BSC facilitates 15N translocation in soils and vascular plants in a temperate desert of northwestern China.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)420-428
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Plant Ecology
Issue number4
Early online date8 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2015


  • Erodium oxyrrhynchum
  • biological soil crusts
  • nitrogen translocation
  • temperate desert

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