Deeper topsoils enhance ecosystem productivity and climate resilience in arid regions, but not in humid regions.

Academic Article


  • Understanding the controlling mechanisms of soil properties on ecosystem productivity is essential for sustaining productivity and increasing resilience under a changing climate. Here we investigate the control of topsoil depth (e.g., A horizons) on long-term ecosystem productivity. We used nationwide observations (n = 2401) of topsoil depth and multiple scaled datasets of gross primary productivity (GPP) for five ecosystems (cropland, forest, grassland, pasture, shrubland) over 36 years (1986-2021) across the conterminous USA. The relationship between topsoil depth and GPP is primarily associated with water availability, which is particularly significant in arid regions under grassland, shrubland, and cropland (r = .37, .32, .15, respectively, p < .0001). For every 10 cm increase in topsoil depth, the GPP increased by 114 to 128 g C m-2  year-1 in arid regions (r = .33 and .45, p < .0001). Paired comparison of relatively shallow and deep topsoils while holding other variables (climate, vegetation, parent material, soil type) constant showed that the positive control of topsoil depth on GPP occurred primarily in cropland (0.73, confidence interval of 0.57-0.84) and shrubland (0.75, confidence interval of 0.40-0.94). The GPP difference between deep and shallow topsoils was small and not statistically significant. Despite the positive control of topsoil depth on productivity in arid regions, its contribution (coefficients: .09-.33) was similar to that of heat (coefficients: .06-.39) but less than that of water (coefficients: .07-.87). The resilience of ecosystem productivity to climate extremes varied in different ecosystems and climatic regions. Deeper topsoils increased stability and decreased the variability of GPP under climate extremes in most ecosystems, especially in shrubland and grassland. The conservation of topsoil in arid regions and improvements of soil depth representation and moisture-retention mechanisms are critical for carbon-sequestration ecosystem services under a changing climate. These findings and relationships should also be included in Earth system models.
  • Authors

  • Zhang, Yakun
  • Desai, Ankur R
  • Xiao, Jingfeng
  • Hartemink, Alfred E
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • December 2023
  • Published In


  • Desert Climate
  • Ecosystem
  • Grassland
  • Soil
  • Water
  • climate change
  • climate extremes
  • gross primary production
  • soil properties
  • structural equation modeling
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Pubmed Id

  • 37731366
  • Start Page

  • 6794
  • End Page

  • 6811
  • Volume

  • 29
  • Issue

  • 23