Abstract: Information about the seasonal changes in soil enzyme activity along altitudinal gradients is key for understanding the responses of soil biochemical processes to ongoing climate change. Therefore, a 3-year in situ soil core incubation experiment was conducted along a 2431-m altitudinal gradient in an alpine-gorge region on the eastern Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, which includes dry valley shrubland, valley-mountain ecotone forest, subalpine coniferous forest, alpine coniferous forest and alpine meadow. The invertase, urease, and acid phosphatase activities in the soil organic layer (OL) and mineral layer (ML) were measured at five critical periods from 2013 to 2017. Higher soil enzyme activity was observed in the subalpine coniferous forest and alpine meadow, whereas lower activity was observed in the dry valley shrubland and valley-mountain ecotone forest. Overall, the seasonal sensitivity of soil enzyme activity decreased with increases in altitude. In the subalpine and alpine coniferous forests, the seasonal sensitivity of soil enzyme activity was significantly higher in the ML than in the OL. The key drivers of the seasonal variation in soil enzyme activity exhibited marked variation with changes in altitude, and these variations depended on the enzyme type and soil layer. Significant effects of temperature and precipitation on seasonal fluctuations in enzyme activities were observed at lower altitudes, whereas soil freeze-thaw cycles significantly affected the seasonal changes in acid phosphatase activity at higher altitudes. In addition, the seasonal variations in specific enzyme activities differed from those found for enzyme activities, which indicated that microorganisms might have mediated the effects of environmental factors on soil enzyme activity by altering the enzyme production efficiency. Briefly, the seasonal fluctuations in soil enzyme activity and their dominant drivers varied greatly among different altitudes in the alpine-gorge region, implying that soil biochemical processes will exhibit differential responses to ongoing climate change at different altitudes.
Keywords: Soil enzyme activity; Altitudinal gradient; Seasonal sensitivity; Climate change