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Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom. 2008 Jun;22(11):1697-702. doi: 10.1002/rcm.3514.

Use of carbon isotope analysis to understand semi-arid erosion dynamics and long-term semi-arid land degradation.

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Sheffield Centre for International Drylands Research, Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, Winter St, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK.


Many semi-arid areas worldwide are becoming degraded, in the form of C(4) grasslands being replaced by C(3) shrublands, which causes an increase in surface runoff and erosion, and altered nutrient cycling, which may affect global biogeochemical cycling. The prevention or control of vegetation transitions is hindered by a lack of understanding of their temporal and spatial dynamics, particularly in terms of interactions between biotic and abiotic processes. This research investigates (1) the effects of soil erosion on the delta(13)C values of soil organic matter (SOM) throughout the soil profile and its implications for reconstructing vegetation change using carbon-isotope analysis and (2) the spatial properties of erosion over a grass-shrub transition to increase understanding of biotic-abiotic interactions by using delta(13)C signals of eroded material as a sediment tracer. Results demonstrate that the soils over grass-shrub transitions are not in steady state. A complex interplay of factors determines the input of SOM to the surface horizon of the soil and its subsequent retention and turnover through the soil profile. A positive correlation between event runoff and delta(13)C signatures of eroded sediment was found in all plots. This indicates that the delta(13)C signatures of eroded sediment may provide a means of distinguishing between changes in erosion dynamics over runoff events of different magnitudes and over different vegetation types. The development of this technique using delta(13)C signatures of eroded sediment provides a new means of furthering existing understanding of erosion dynamics over vegetation transitions. This is critical in terms of understanding biotic-abiotic feedbacks and the evolution of areas subject to vegetation change in semi-arid environments.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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