State Key Laboratory of soil Erosion and Dryland Farming on the Loess Plateau, Institute of Soil and Water Conservation, Northwest A&F University, Yangling, 712100, PR China. Electronic address: [Email]
Soil microbial metabolism is vital for nutrient cycling and aboveground ecosystem stability. A general understanding of microbial metabolism and nutrient limitation under human disturbance in arid and semi-arid regions, which are the largest and most fragile oligotrophic ecosystems globally, however, is still limited. We quantified and compared the characteristics of nutrient limitation of soil microbes under natural/artificial grassland and shrubland, an ecological forest, an economic forest, and sloped cropland in typical arid and semi-arid ecosystems on the Loess Plateau, China. Vegetation restoration significantly affected the activities of extracellular enzymes and ecoenzymatic stoichiometry mainly by affecting soil nutrients and nutrient stoichiometry. A vector analysis of enzyme activity indicated that microbial communities were co-limited by carbon (C) and phosphorus (P) in all types of vegetation restoration. Linear regression indicated that microbial C and P limitations were significantly correlated with the stoichiometry of soil nutrient, suggesting that the balance of nutrient stoichiometry is an important factor maintaining microbial metabolism and elemental homeostasis. C and P limitations in the microbial communities were the lowest in the natural grassland. This implies that both vegetation and microbial communities under the restoration pattern of natural grassland were more stable under environmental stress, so the restoration of natural grassland should be recommended as the preferred option for ecosystem restoration in these arid and semi-arid regions.