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Grazing prohibition has been used to restore degraded grassland ecosystems in semiarid areas; however, the impact of this measure on soil nitrogen (N) cycling is poorly understood. Furthermore, recent studies have tended to focus on the topsoil and ignored a steep gradient of nutrient accumulation with soil depth. Here, we investigated changes in N functional genes (NFGs) involved in organic N decomposition (chiA), archaeal and bacterial ammonia oxidation (amoA-AOA and amoA-AOB), respectively, denitrification (nirK and nirS), and N fixation (nifH) in soil profiles from a chronosequence of grazing prohibition (0, 10, 15, 25, and 35 years) in the semiarid grasslands of the Loess Plateau, China. The abundance of all the investigated NFGs in grassland soils after 35 years' grazing prohibition was higher than in grazed grassland. This result suggests that microbial N turnover potential is facilitated by grazing prohibition, probably through enhanced biomass production via increases in nutrient input into the soil. The higher ratio of (chiA + nifH)/(amoA-AOA + amoA-AOB) and values of (nirK + nirS) in grazing-prohibited grasslands than in grazed grassland suggest that prohibition of grazing not only improved microbial N storage potential but also increased N gas emission potential. The abundances of NFGs varied along the soil profiles and responded differently to environmental factors. The chiA and nifH abundances decreased with soil depth and were associated with variation in aboveground biomass, NH-N, and organic carbon, while amoA-AOA, nirK, and nirS genes increased with depth and were more affected by soil organic carbon, moisture, and bulk density. Multivariate regression tree analysis demonstrated that aboveground biomass was the best explanatory variable for the changes in NFGs in grazed grassland, while soil organic carbon was the best in the grazing-prohibited grasslands. Our results provide new insight into the soil N cycling potential of degraded and restored semiarid grassland ecosystems.
This article was published in the following journal.
Name: The Science of the total environment
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The circulation of nitrogen in nature, consisting of a cycle of biochemical reactions in which atmospheric nitrogen is compounded, dissolved in rain, and deposited in the soil, where it is assimilated and metabolized by bacteria and plants, eventually returning to the atmosphere by bacterial decomposition of organic matter.
Nitrate reduction process generally mediated by anaerobic bacteria by which nitrogen available to plants is converted to a gaseous form and lost from the soil or water column. It is a part of the nitrogen cycle.
Specific sequences of nucleotides along a molecule of DNA (or, in the case of some viruses, RNA) which represent functional units of HEREDITY. Most eukaryotic genes contain a set of coding regions (EXONS) that are spliced together in the transcript, after removal of intervening sequence (INTRONS) and are therefore labeled split genes.
Genes bearing close resemblance to known genes at different loci, but rendered non-functional by additions or deletions in structure that prevent normal transcription or translation. When lacking introns and containing a poly-A segment near the downstream end (as a result of reverse copying from processed nuclear RNA into double-stranded DNA), they are called processed genes.
Stable nitrogen atoms that have the same atomic number as the element nitrogen, but differ in atomic weight. N-15 is a stable nitrogen isotope.