Soil organic carbon (SOC) in agricultural land is influenced greatly by indeterminate human activity, making it difficult to understand the spatial pattern of SOC. Soil pH and topographic conditions are key indices in the Chinese Soil Genetic Classification System (CSGCS) and manage some critical factors that control the dynamics of SOC either directly or indirectly. To identify the extent to which pH and topographic factors control SOC levels in dry farming cropland soils of the mountainous region of Southwest China, we compared the differences along topographic gradients, and analysed the contribution of different factors in determining SOC status using analysis of variance (ANOVA) and linear regression. Our results indicated the SOC levels ranged from 10.46 g•kg− 1 to 37.60 g•kg− 1 and were significantly correlated with soil pH, landscape position, slope and elevation (p < 0.05). On a large scale, the combined effects of landscape position and elevation contributed to fluctuating SOC levels along the elevation gradient. SOC levels slightly, but significantly, decreased from base to summit. The difference of SOC levels along a 200 m elevation gradient exhibited statistical significance (p < 0.05). A slope range, from 0 to 42° was categorized into three groups, namely, 5° to 15° 15° to 30° and others. The slope range 15° to 30° had significantly greater SOC values than the other groups. These variables could all together explain approximately 40% of total variation in SOC, of which approximately 70% was attributable to soil pH, suggesting soil pH plays a key role in forming the spatial pattern of SOC levels in dry farming cropland soils of the mountainous region of Southwest China. The combined effect of landscape position and elevation could further explain 7.3% of SOC variation, which is more apparent than the effect of elevation alone.
- Dry farming cropland
- Soil organic carbon