Grasslands play a crucial role in the coupled biogeochemical cycles of carbon (C) and silicon (Si) because they have a large biogenic Si pool (i.e. phytoliths). In recent decades, desertification has occurred extensively in sandy grasslands due to human activities and to increased aridity as a consequence of climate change. The present study determined the contents of phytoliths and C occlusion within phytoliths (PhytOC) in sandy grassland with different vegetation coverage from eastern Inner Mongolia, China and preliminarily assessed the effects of desertification on phytoliths and PhytOC production. Our results showed that the phytolith and PhytOC contents among different plant species varied from 0.68 to 9.23% and 0.03 to 1.13‰, respectively. However, the community-weighted means of the phytolith and PhytOC contents for the total aboveground vegetation were only 1.13–3.61% and 0.09–0.35‰, respectively, and their respective production fluxes ranged from 8.94 to 47.8 kg ha−1 year−1 and from 0.06 to 0.48 kg ha−1 year−1, respectively. As desertification progressed, the total contents of phytoliths and PhytOC in aboveground vegetation did not change significantly, whereas the production fluxes of phytoliths and PhytOC were markedly reduced. This study indicates that grassland desertification decreases the range of the total contents of phytolith and PhytOC by reducing species richness, and decreases the production fluxes of phytoliths and PhytOC by reducing aboveground biomass. Grassland restoration can theoretically enhance the production fluxes of phytoliths and PhytOC ~ five-fold.
Science of the Total Environment – Elsevier
Published: Jun 1, 2018
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