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Y. Qi et al.

/ Geoderma 149 (2009) 325334


Table 6
Contribution weight of soil factors to soil productivity calculated by the AHP
Hierarchy A
Hierarchy C

NaHCO3P
HNO3K
DTPAZn
H2OB
HOAcSi
Obstacle horizon type
Obstacle horizon thickness
Obstacle horizon depth
Texture
pH
CEC
SOM
Cultivated layer depth
Topography
Irrigation guarantee ratio
Drainage modulus
Total

Hierarchy B
B1

B2

B3

B4

B5

0.0604

0.1701

0.2632

0.2126

0.2936

0.1426
0.4809
0.119
0.1005
0.157
0.1238
0.4398
0.4365
0.0856
0.1875
0.2216
0.5053
0.2941
0.7059

0.241
0.759
1

Combined
weight
Bi Ci
0.0086
0.0291
0.0072
0.0061
0.0095
0.0211
0.0748
0.0743
0.0225
0.0494
0.0583
0.133
0.0625
0.1501
0.0707
0.2228
1

(Eq. (2)) (NQI) (Han and Wu, 1994; Qin and Zhao, 2000), using every
possible combination of index and indicator method.
n

IQ I = Wi Ni

i=1

2.3.5. Criteria of soil quality grades


Soil quality indices were divided into four grades according to their
classication criteria (Table 7). The criterions for IQIs using the TDS
indicator method (IQITDS), were based on the classication of region type
and fertility of cultivated land in China (ISMAPRC, 1996). Other index
criterions were adjusted based on IQITDS in terms of actual index value.
All criteria intervals were calculated to be equidistant (0.1). Grade I is
considered most suitable for plant growth, grade II is suitable for plant
growth but with some limitations, grade III has more severe limitations
than grade II, and grade IV soil has the most severe limitations for plant
growth. Soil quality grade spatial distribution was mapped with the aid
of ArcGIS software using the ordinary kriging method.
2.3.6. Comparison of indices
Match/mismatch within indices was computed by direct comparison and Kappa analysis using soil quality grades. Direct comparison of
quality grades in each site was conducted by comparing the number of
index and indicator combinations that computed the same soil quality
grade for each sample site. For Kappa analysis, sites were classied using
four soil grades as described above, and a Kappa value was computed
to show next levels of agreement: (1) null b0.05; (2) very low: 0.050.2;
(3) low: 0.20.4; (4) moderate: 0.40.55; (5) good: 0.550.7; (6) very
Good: 0.70.85; (7) almost perfect: 0.850.99; and (8) perfect: 1
(Monserud and Leemans, 1992; Borja et al., 2008). To further describe
the relationship within the indices, linear relationship (correlation)
within indices and regression within indicator methods were conducted
while using SigmaPlot software to plot them.

where Wi is the assigned weight, Ni is the indicator score, and n is the


number of indicators.

3. Results

s
p2ave + p2min n1

NQI =
2
n

3.1. Soil quality based on the TDS indicator method

where Pave is the average scores of the selected indicators in each site,
Pmin is the minimum scores of the selected indicators in each site, and
n is the number of indicators.

329

In all the indicators, the obstacle horizon (type, thickness, and


depth) had higher weights, than nutrient conservation properties
(SOM, CEC, pH, texture and TP), and micronutrients (DTPAZn, H2OB,
DTPACu and DTPAMn) had the lowest weights (Table 5).

Fig. 2. Hierarchical structure for the indicator weight assignments.

330

Y. Qi et al. / Geoderma 149 (2009) 325334

Table 7
Criteria for soil quality grade divisions in different indicator methods and models
Soil quality index model
IQI

NQI

Indicator method
TDS
MDS
DDS
TDS
MDS
DDS

Soil quality grade


I

II

III

IV

IQITDS 0.76
IQIMDS 0.78
IQIDDS 0.91
NQITDS 0.55
NQIMDS 0.80
NQIDDS 0.65

0.76 N IQITDS 0.66


0.78 N IQIMDS 0.68
0.91 N IQIDDS 0.81
0.55 N NQITDS 0.45
0.80 N NQIMDS 0.70
0.65 N NQIDDS 0.55

0.66 N IQITDS 0.56


0.68 N IQIMDS 0.58
0.81 N IQIDDS 0.71
0.45 N NQITDS 0.35
0.70 N NQIMDS 0.60
0.55 N NQIDDS 0.45

0.56 N IQITDS
0.58 N IQIMDS
0.71 N IQIDDS
0.35 N NQITDS
0.60 N NQIMDS
0.45 N NQIDDS

According to the IQI model based on the TDS indicator method, soil
quality in Zhangjiagang in 2004 was high and grade II and III were the
dominant areas (Fig. 3, Table 8). There was little grade I soil, and areas
with grade II, III, and IV quality accounted for 37.2% (15215 ha), 57.5%
(23540 ha), and 4.5% (1826 ha) of the total soil area, respectively. Of
the two soil types, Anthrosols in the south always had higher soil
quality with about 70% grade II soil and about 30% grade III than
Cambosols in the north with 72% grade III soil and 23% grade II soil.
This disparity may, in part, be related to soil texture derived from
different parent materials (Ball et al., 2000; Mubarak et al., 2005).
From the NQI model based on the TDS indicator method, soil areas
with grade I, II, III and IV accounted for 1.4%, 34.6%, 60.5%, and 4.0% of
the total soil area, respectively. The results also showed higher soil
quality in Anthrosols than Cambosols. For the Anthrosols in the south,
grade II soil account for 68.2% of the total, where as grade III soil
account for 75.8% of the total Cambosols area (Table 8).
3.2. Soil quality based on the MDS indicator method
Seven principle components had eigenvalues 1 in the MDS
indicator selection method (Table 4). Highly weighted variables for
the rst principle component (PC1) included soil texture, pH, CEC, and
SOM. Correlation coefcients between these four variables were well
correlated. SOM was the most highly correlated and thus chosen for
the MDS as the most representative of that group. For PC2, PC3,
and PC4, obstacle horizon depth and HNO3K, obstacle horizon depth
and NH4OAcK, and DTPACu and DTPAFe were highly weighted and
well correlated, respectively. HNO3K, obstacle horizon depth and

DTPAFe were the most highly weighted and chosen for the MDS.
Only one indicator each was highly weighted under PC5, PC6, and PC7,
i.e. topography, drainage modulus, and cultivated layer depth, therefore these variables were all added to the MDS. The nal MDS was thus
comprised of cultivated layer depth, topography, obstacle horizon
depth, drainage modulus, SOM, HNO3K, and DTPAFe.
From the IQI index based on the MDS indicator method, soil quality
was evaluated quantitatively. As shown in Fig. 3 and Table 8, soil areas
with grade I, II, III, and IV accounted for 1.5%, 35.5%, 60.6%, and 2.4% of
the total soil area, respectively. With more grade II soil, Anthrosols in
the south had higher quality than Cambosols (Table 8). The soil quality
grades from the NQI model based on the MDS indicator method had
similar results as the IQI model for Cambosols as well as Anthrosols.
3.3. Soil quality based on the DDS indicator method
Using the IQI index and the DDS indicator method, grade III soil
was dominant and accounted for 61.9% of the total soil area in
Zhangjiagang County. Grade II accounted for 34.0% of the total soil
area with a total area of 13903.7 ha, and grade I and IV account for very
small areas (Table 8). Grade II soil, dominantly distributed in
Anthrosols in the southern of the county accounts for 70.5% of the
total Anthrosols; grade III soil, dominantly distributed in Cambosols in
the northern of the county, accounts for 77.5% of the total Cambosols;
grade IV soil is dominantly distributed in Cambosols; and grade I soil is
dominantly distribute in Anthrosols (Fig. 3, Table 8).
Using the NQI index and the DDS indicator method, soil areas with
grade I, II, III, and IV accounted for 0.2%, 33.2%, 62.5%, and 4.1% of the

Fig. 3. Soil quality grade distribution based on different indicator methods and indices in Zhangjiagang County.

Y. Qi et al. / Geoderma 149 (2009) 325334

331

Table 8
Area and percentage of soil quality grades in different indicator methods and models in Zhangjiagang County, 2004
Indicator

Grade

Method
TDS

MDS

DDS

IQI

NQI

Cambosols
I
II
III
IV
I
II
III
IV
I
II
III
IV

Anthrosols

Total

Cambosols

Anthrosols

Total

Area

Area

Area

Area

Area

Area

13
6341
19927
1505
416
5603
20813
953
0
4650
21523
1612

0.05
22.82
71.72
5.41
1.5
20.17
74.91
3.43
0
16.74
77.46
5.8

322
8875
3613
322
194
8935
3979
23
75
9254
3785
17

2.45
67.58
27.52
2.45
1.48
68.04
30.31
0.17
0.57
70.47
28.83
0.13

335
15215
23540
1826
610
14538
24790
975
75
13904
25308
1628

0.82
37.19
57.53
4.46
1.49
35.53
60.59
2.38
0.18
33.98
61.85
3.98

94
5199
21051
1651
79
5077
21339
1290
54
4588
21712
1432

0.34
18.71
75.76
5.94
0.28
18.27
76.8
4.64
0.19
16.51
78.14
5.15

477
8950
3698
5
150
9221
3692
68
15
9002
3873
241

3.63
68.16
28.16
0.04
1.14
70.22
28.12
0.52
0.11
68.56
29.5
1.84

571
14149
24749
1656
229
14297
25032
1358
69
13590
25585
1673

1.4
34.58
60.49
4.05
0.56
34.94
61.18
3.32
0.17
33.21
62.53
4.09

total soil area, respectively. The results also showed higher soil quality
in Anthrosols than Cambosols. For the Anthrosols in the south, grade II
soil accounted for 68.6% of the total area, and for Cambosols, grade III
soil accounted for 78.1% of the total area (Table 8).
3.4. Soil grade distribution comparison
The evaluation results, based on the six indices, all showed that
moderate quality (grade II and III) soil areas were dominant and
accounted for about 90% of the total soil area in Zhangjiagang County.
Areas with high quality (grade I) and low quality (grade IV) were
limited in terms of the suitable soil quality grade criterions established
(Table 7). From the soil quality grades distribution map (Fig. 3), a
similar soil grade distribution trend could be found with every
combination of indicator method and index model. Grade I and grade
II were distributed in the south and grade III and IV were distributed in
the north. There was no large mapping disparity found between
indicator methods or indices. Visually, IQITDS is strikingly similar to
NQITDS and IQIMDS is similar to NQIMDS, but IQIDDS and NQIDDS are not
as similar to one another. This visual trend is conrmed by comparing
match analysis of the three indicator methods.
3.5. Match analysis
Match analysis showed a high level of agreement among the six
indices. Direct comparison showed that agreement for the 431 sample

sites represents 35.3% of the cases for six indices, 62.7% for ve out of six
indices, and 100% for four out of six indices. Agreement within the IQI
model accounted for 57.3% of all cases, and 48.3% for the NQI model.
Match analysis showed 88.4% agreement within the TDS method, 81.2%
within the MDS method, and 66.4% within the DDS method. Disagreement accounted for 10.0%, 14.2%, and 17.4% for IQITDS, IQIMDS, and IQIDDS,
respectively, and 12.5%, 18.8%, and 28.3% for NQITDS, NQIMDS, and NQIDDS,
respectively. Kappa statistical analysis showed an acceptable level of
agreement among soil quality grades with a total Kappa value of 0.62.
Kappa values for IQI and NQI models were 0.76 and 0.71, respectively,
and for TDS, MDS, and DDS were 0.87, 0.82, and 0.78, respectively.
3.6. Regression and correlation
Statistical analysis showed signicant differences among six
indices but high correlation coefcients. The IQI value calculated
from the three indicator methods showed signicant differences
(p b 0.01), where IQIDDS (0.79) N IQIMDS (0.66) N IQITDS (0.64), but the
IQI's have signicant correlation between each other (Fig. 4). Similar
results were derived based on the NQI values calculated from these
three indicator methods which also had signicant differences
(p b 0.01), where NQIMDS (0.64) N NQIDDS (0.51) N NQITDS (0.43), and
also had signicant correlation among them (Fig. 4).
From the linear relationship of the indices among different
indicator methods and models (Fig. 4), the correlation coefcients
were higher and more predictable when the IQI model was used than

Fig. 4. Linear relationship of indices comparing the MDS and DDS indicator methods with the TDS indicator method.

332

Y. Qi et al. / Geoderma 149 (2009) 325334

when the NQI was used, and IQI had higher r2 values. When linear
regression is analyzed to compare MDS to DDS using both indices, the
r2 value of DDS (0.86) was better than MDS (0.27). When the indices
are separated, the MDS gives better results than the DDS (Fig. 4).
Additionally, the correlation coefcient was the highest when the
MDS indicator method and IQI model was utilized (Fig. 4).
4. Discussion
4.1. Soil quality
In general, the soil quality status in Zhangjiagang County is
moderate to high. The evaluation results based on the six indices
showed that the soil areas with moderate quality (grade II and III)
were dominant and accounted for 90% of the total soil area, and high
quality (grade I) and low quality (grade IV) were limited (Table 8).
Generally, an area can be divided into many different soil quality
regions due to soil heterogeneity, as has been indicated by research in
other areas (Zhang et al., 2004). Zhangjiagang can be divided into two
distinct regions: (1) the sandy loam, medium quality region, which
closely corresponds with the Cambosols soil order located in the
northern part of the county along the Yangtze River. Soil quality in this
area is signicantly limited by low SOM and high soil pH that is
considered to be too alkaline for rice cultivation; (2) the loamy clay,
higher quality region corresponds with Anthrosols, located in the
southern part of the county. Although this soil has higher concentrations
of SOM and nutrients, soil quality in some soils of this area is classied as
severely limited due to a compacted obstacle horizon.
Similar to other areas in the YRD region like Rugao, Wuxi, and
Gaoyou, soil quality was affected by continual intensive production
which has taken place since the 1980's (Zhang et al., 2004; Huang et al.,
2006, 2007). Smallholder farm communities often improve soil quality
by increasing the active participation of farmers (Mowo et al., 2006;
Huang et al., 2007). Incorporation of crop residues usually improves
SOM and TN directly, and induces accumulation of C and N (Fischer et al.,
2002; Karlen et al., 2006; Raiesi, 2006; Huang et al., 2007). Land use from
dry land to paddy elds usually improves soil quality (Bhandari et al.,
2002), and fertilization results in SOM and nutrient increase directly.
Although continual intensive production practices have improved
soil fertility signicantly, there can be averse consequence for the
overall environment. Heavy application of chemical fertilizers,
especially N, and decreased use of organic fertilizers, has induced
acidication (Shao et al., 2006) and soil carbon/nitrogen (C/N) ratio
decrease in Anthrosols (Qi et al., 2008). Soil acidication may also
induce variation of nutrient cycling (Kemmitt et al., 2005) and
bioavailability of some heavy metals (Myaer, 1998). Fortunately, the
soil pH of Anthrosols in Zhangjiagang is still above 4.5. The C/N ratio
decrease, which enhances the activity of microbes and accelerates
mineralization of SOM will result in high N mineralization rates
(Vanlauwe et al., 1996; Lupwayi and Haque, 1998; Raiesi, 2006), slow
inorganic N accumulation in the soil due to N leaching and
denitrication (Vanlauwe et al., 1996; Lupwayi and Haque, 1998),
and decreased C xation capacity due to C release from the soil. C
release and N leaching contribute to the greenhouse effect and
threaten safety of ground and surface water.

wheat system, or were of no importance for our index comparison on


a small regional scale. Inclusion of micronutrients, such as DTPAFe,
would give farmers and scientists a more balanced view of soil
nutrition, which is not solely focused on N, P, and K. Different from the
TDS method, the SOM and DTPAFe have the highest weights and the
obstacle horizon depths have the lowest weights in the MDS indicator
method (Table 5).
The MDS and DDS indicators were selected using the TDS data set,
and the indicator number decreased from TDS (22) to DDS (16) to MDS
(7). Typically, more indicators represent soil quality more comprehensively, but reduplication becomes a problem when there is signicant
correlation between properties, such as SOM and TN, and lab analysis
becomes cumbersome with so many soil properties. On the other hand,
the deletion of some soil properties means the lost of soil quality
information contained by the deleted indicators. For instance, in the
MDS selection procedure, only the PCs with eigenvalues 1 and
indicators receiving weighted loading values within 10% of the highest
were selected for the MDS (Table 4). If the indicator with the highest
weighted loading has signicant correlation with other indicators, the
indicator can adequately represent another indicator in the PC, but,
some soil quality information will lost. Based on correlation analysis, the
MDS method is more suitable than the DDS method to adequately
represent the TDS method in our study. With the MDS method, there is
little duplication, but indicator numbers are adequate for soil quality
evaluation. One reason for higher r2 values, better correlation analysis,
and lower instances of duplication is due to the smaller number of
indicators in the MDS method than the DDS.
4.3. Indices
Using IQI and NQI have some distinct advantages over other
indices: (1) soil researchers, managers, and farmers easily understand
both types of indices, due to their intuitive nature as mentioned by
Wang and Gong (1998) and Sun et al. (2003); (2) both indices
incorporate information based on mathematical methods, which lead
to increased condence in the results; and (3) both indices can serve
as a platform for planning other agricultural research. It should be
noted that the classication criteria denition calculated from the two
models are so subjective that comparison between different regions
are affected by limiting factors.
Though similar soil quality evaluation results were obtained, the
IQI model is better for soil quality index calculation in Zhangjiagang
County. By using indicator weights, the IQI model differentiates the
importance of various indicators. Soil quality was determined using all
the indicators, but always directed by several important indicators,
and higher weights were placed on key indicators. Instead of assigning
indicator weights, the NQI model treated all indicators, except the one
with the lowest score, the same. The lowest scoring indicator is added
to the average of the scores, effectively giving it a higher weighted
value. In other words, while the IQI assigns each indicator score
independently, NQI only gives preferential importance to the indicator
with the lowest score. Although the NQI model showed a good level
agreement in match analysis, the agreement percentage using direct
comparison and Kappa analysis was lower than IQI. Also, the
correlation coefcients were higher and the linear slope was nearest
to 1 when the IQI model was used.

4.2. Indicator methods


4.4. Interaction between indicator methods and indices
Almost all of the seven indicators used with the MDS method can
be found in previously created MDS indicator methods (Doran and
Parkin, 1994, Karlen and Stott, 1994; Larson and Pierce, 1994; Singer
and Ewing, 2000; Ditzler and Tugel, 2002). However, our list also
included thickness of obstacle horizons and drainage modulus which
were not found in any other MDS methods. Others, such as stoniness
(Singer and Ewing, 2000) and earthworm populations (Govaerts et al.,
2006) were not included as they were not applicable for the rice

One of the reasons match analysis showed a high level of


agreement and soil distribution was so similar is likely because they
all used suitable criteria to dene soil grades. Denition of quality
grade has no one uniform criteria. Many researchers dene the criteria
based on experience, crop yield, or regional soil quality situations.
In this study, the criteria for the IQITDS was dened based on the
classication of region type and fertility of cultivated land in China

Y. Qi et al. / Geoderma 149 (2009) 325334

(ISMAPRC, 1996), and other index criteria were adjusted based on the
IQITDS in terms of their actual index value. Though the DDS method
outperformed the MDS method, when analyzed using overall linear
regression, which combines the IQI and NQI data, separating the two
shows that using the MDS method has a clear advantage (Fig. 4).
5. Conclusions
This study suggests that using soil quality indices to evaluate
agricultural soil quality can provide similar results even when
different indicator methods and models have been used in the study
area. In this study, IQITDS was determined to be the most accurate
qualitative soil quality evaluation method, because it took all soil
parameters into consideration and gave the most consistent results.
However, in order for one method to become the standard for research
and to facilitate discussion and cooperation, a standard should be
rapid, reliable, and economically feasible. For this reason, the MDS
indicator method is the most suitable of the three methods compared
in this study because it adequately represents the TDS method and is
more accurate than the DDS method. We suggest using the IQI index
with the MDS indicator method as a starting point towards an
international standard for future research. Care should be taken in
determining which indicators are included in the MDS method. In
addition, research should be conducted to further rene an IQIMDS
model to make it more suitable as an international standard.
Acknowledgements
The authors are grateful for funding from the Natural Science
Foundation of China (40773075; 40601039), the Knowledge Innovation Program of Chinese Academy of Sciences (KSCX1-YW-09-02).
Thanks extended to local agricultural extensionists for their help
during sampling.
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