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Determining landscape-level drivers of variability for over fifty soil chemical elements


Syntheses of large datasets have allowed increased clarity of distribution patterns and variation in soil major and trace elements. However, the drivers of variation in topsoil elements across biogeographical scales are not well understood. Our aim was to (1) identify how landscape-scale climate, geographical features, and edaphic factors influence soil elements, and (2) determine key environmental thresholds for shifts in soil element concentration. We analyzed patterns of variation in topsoil elements using 9830 samples collected across 39,000km2 in subtropical land in southeast China. Canonical correlations and multiple linear regressions were used to model variations of each element across mean annual temperature (MAT), mean annual precipitation (MAP), land use, spatial topography, and soil pH. Element concentrations show significant latitudinal and longitudinal trends, and are significantly influenced by climate, land use, spatial topography, and soil pH. Longitude, pH, MAT, and MAP were the environmental factors most tightly correlated with element concentrations. Climate and soil pH drove positive or negative alterations in soil elements, with threshold indicators of MAP=1000mm/1500mm, MAT=17.8°C/18.0°C, and pH=5.8/5.0, respectively. Our results indicate topsoil elements have structural and functional thresholds of climate and soil pH in relatively wet and acidic environments. Our findings can facilitate holistic soil element concentration predictions and help elucidate the specific influences of climate and soil pH, enabling development of more complete biogeochemical models.

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