Soil functions and ecosystem services research in the Chinese karst Critical Zone
Covering extensive parts of China, karst is a critically important landscape that has experienced rapid and intensive land use change and associated ecosystem degradation within only the last 50 years. In the natural state, key ecosystem services delivered by these landscapes include regulation of the hydrological cycle, nutrient cycling and supply, carbon storage in soils and biomass, biodiversity and food production. Intensification of agriculture since the late-20th century has led to a rapid deterioration in Critical Zone (CZ) state, evidenced by reduced crop production and rapid loss of soil. In many areas, an ecological 'tipping point' appears to have been passed as basement rock is exposed and 'rocky desertification' dominates. This paper reviews contemporary research of soil processes and ecosystems service delivery in Chinese karst ecosystems, with an emphasis on soil degradation and the potential for ecosystem recovery through sustainable management. It is clear that currently there is limited understanding of the geological, hydrological and ecological processes that control soil functions in these landscapes, which is critical for developing management strategies to optimise ecosystem service delivery. This knowledge gap presents a classic CZ scientific challenge because an integrated multi-disciplinary approach is essential to quantify the responses of soils in the Chinese karst CZ to extreme anthropogenic perturbation, to develop a mechanistic understanding of their resilience to environmental stressors, and thereby to inform strategies to recover and maintain sustainable soil function.