Spatial variations of soil respiration and temperature sensitivity along a steep slope of the semiarid Loess Plateau

The spatial heterogeneity of soil respiration and its temperature sensitivity pose a great challenge to accurately estimate the carbon flux in global carbon cycling, which has primarily been researched in flatlands versus hillslope ecosystems. On an eroded slope (35°) of the semiarid Loess Plateau, soil respiration, soil moisture and soil temperature were measured in situ at upper and lower slope positions in triplicate from 2014 until 2016, and the soil biochemical and microbial properties were determined. The results showed that soil respiration was significantly greater (by 44.2%) at the lower slope position (2.6 μmol m–2 s–1) than at the upper slope position, as were soil moisture, carbon, nitrogen fractions and root biomass. However, the temperature sensitivity was 13.2% greater at the upper slope position than at the lower slope position (P < 0.05). The soil fungal community changed from being Basidiomycota-dominant at the upper slope position to being Zygomycota-dominant at the lower slope position, corresponding with increased β-D-glucosidase activity at the upper slope position than at the lower slope position. We concluded that soil respiration was enhanced by the greater soil moisture, root biomass, carbon and nitrogen contents at the lower slope position than at the upper slope position. Moreover, the increased soil respiration and decreased temperature sensitivity at the lower slope position were partially due to copiotrophs replacing oligotrophs. Such spatial variations along slopes must be properly accounted for when estimating the carbon budget and feedback of future climate change on hillslope ecosystems.