J Plant Ecol ›› 2020, Vol. 13 ›› Issue (2): 213-223.DOI: 10.1093/jpe/rtaa003

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Woody plant encroachment may decrease plant carbon storage in grasslands under future drier conditions

Yun-Hua Liu1,†, Jun-Hui Cheng1,†, Bernhard Schmid2, Li-Song Tang3 and Jian-Dong Sheng1, *   

  1. 1 Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Xinjiang Key Laboratory of Soil and Plant Ecological Processes, College of Grassland and Environmental Science, Xinjiang Agricultural University, Urumqi 830052, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China, 2 Department of Geography, University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland, 3 State Key Laboratory of Desert and Oasis Ecology, Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, Chinese Academy of Science, Urumqi 830011, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, China

    *Corresponding author. E-mail: sjd@xjau.edu.cn
  • Received:2019-08-26 Revised:2020-01-08 Accepted:2020-01-21 Online:2020-01-23 Published:2020-04-01

Abstract:

Aims

Woody plants are widely distributed in various grassland types along the altitudinal/climatic gradients in Xinjiang, China. Considering previously reported change in carbon (C) storage following woody plant encroachment in grasslands and the mediating effect of climate on this change, we predicted that a positive effect of woody plants on plant C storage in semiarid grasslands may revert to a negative effect in arid grasslands. We first investigated the spatial variation of aboveground C (AGC) and belowground C (BGC) storage among grassland types and then tested our prediction.

Methods

We measured the living AGC storage, litter C (LC) and BGC storage of plants in two physiognomic types, wooded grasslands (aboveground biomass of woody plants at least 50%) and pure grasslands without woody plants in six grassland types representing a gradient form semiarid to arid conditions across Xinjiang.

Important Findings Living AGC, LC, BGC and total plant C storage increased from desert to mountain meadows. These increases could also be explained by increasing mean annual precipitation (MAP) or decreasing mean annual temperature (MAT), suggesting that grassland types indeed represented an aridity gradient. Woody plants had an effect on the plant C storage both in size and in distribution relative to pure grasslands. The direction and strength of the effect of woody plants varied with grassland types due to the mediating effect of the climate, with wetter conditions promoting a positive effect of woody plants. Woody plants increased vegetation-level AGC through their high AGC relative to herbaceous plants. However, more negative effects of woody plants on herbaceous plants with increasing aridity led to a weaker increase in the living AGC in arid desert, steppe desert and desert steppe than in the less arid other grassland types. Under greater aridity (lower MAP and higher MAT), woody plants allocated less biomass to roots and had lower BGC and had a more negative impact on herbaceous plant production, thereby reducing vegetation-level BGC in the desert, steppe desert and desert steppe. In sum, this resulted in a negative effect of woody plants on total plant C storage in the most arid grasslands in Xinjiang. As a consequence, we predict that woody plant encroachment may decrease rather than increase C storage in grasslands under future drier conditions.

Key words: woody plant encroachment, aridity gradients, plant C storage, climate, grassland types, Xinjiang

摘要:

木本植物沿海拔/气候梯度广泛分布于中国新疆的各种草地类型。木本植物入侵能引起草地碳储量的变化,并且气候条件会调节这种变化。基于这些研究结果,我们预测,在半干旱草地中,木本植物对半干旱草地的植被碳储量有正向影响,而在干旱草地中,木本植物会负向影响碳储量。我们调查草地类型之间地上和地下碳储量的空间分布并对这一预测进行检验。测定纯草地和木质化草地(木本植物的相对地上生物量>50%)的地上活体生物量(AGC)、凋落物量和地下生物量(BGC),共包括6种草地类型,可代表新疆地区半干旱至干旱状态。从荒漠到山地草甸,地上活体生物量、凋落物量和地下生物量逐渐增加。这一结果可能由年均降水量增加或年均气温降低导致,也表明草地类型代表干旱梯度。相比于纯草地,木本植物对草地植被碳储量的大小和分配均有显著影响。并且,由于气候的调节作用,木本植物影响的方向和强度因草地类型而异,较为湿润的条件可以促进木本植物的正向效应。相比于草本植物,木本植物的AGC高导致草地植被AGC增加。然而,随干旱程度增加,木本植物对草本植物呈现更为明显的负面效应,使得在荒漠、草原化荒漠和荒漠草原中,其木本植物对植被AGC的增加幅度小于较为湿润的草地类型。在较为干旱(MAP较低而MAT较高)的气候条件下,木本植物向根部分配的生物量较少,BGC较低并对草本植物的生产力有负面影响,从而降低荒漠、草原化荒漠和荒漠草原的植被BGC。木本植物对新疆最干旱的草地总植被碳储量有负面影响。因此,我们预测,在未来干旱的条件下,木本植物入侵可能降低而不是增加草地的植被碳储量。

关键词: 木本植物入侵, 干旱梯度, 植被碳储量, 气候, 草地类型, 新疆