Soil carbon and sugars play key roles in carbon (C) cycling in grassland ecosystems. However, little is known about their changes in quantity and composition in degraded alpine meadows in the Tibetan plateau. We compared vegetation C density, soil organic carbon (SOC) density, and soil sugars in nondegraded (ND), degraded (DA; following artificial restoration), and extremely degraded (ED) grasslands and analyzed the relation among these parameters by redundancy analysis (RDA) and structural equation models (SEMs). Belowground biomass, soil microbial biomass C, soil microbial biomass nitrogen (N), belowground biomass C density, SOC density, and soil sugars were lower in DA and ED grasslands than in ND grasslands. In addition, the ratio of belowground biomass to aboveground biomass (BAR) decreased with an increase in degradation. The ratio of belowground biomass to aboveground biomass was identified as the main indirect driving force of ecosystem C density by affecting total vegetation C and SOC densities. Soil dissolved organic carbon (DOC), microbial biomass carbon (SMBC), neutral sugars (NS), and total nitrogen (TN) were identified as main direct driving forces. The ratio of belowground biomass to aboveground biomass altered DOC, SMBC, NS, and TN and, consequently, was the primary driving force for the alpine meadows' ecosystem C density. It was concluded that land management in alpine meadows should include practices that maintain a relatively high BAR in order to curb degradation and increase ecosystem C density.
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