J Plant Ecol ›› 2019, Vol. 12 ›› Issue (6): 1059-1072.DOI: 10.1093/jpe/rtz039

• Research Articles • Previous Articles    

Root production, mortality and turnover in soil profiles as affected by clipping in a temperate grassland on the Loess Plateau

Lin Wei1, Pengwei Yao2, Guanghua Jing3, Xiefeng Ye2,* and Jimin Cheng3,*   

  1. 1Department of Environment, College of Forestry, Henan Agricultural University, Zhengzhou 450002, China
    2Department of Tobacco Science, College of Tobacco Science, Henan Agricultural University, Zhengzhou 450002, China
    3Institute of Soil and Water Conservation, Chinese Academy of Sciences and Ministry of Water Resources, Yangling 712100, China
    *Correspondence address. Xiefeng Ye, Department of Tobacco Science, College of Tobacco Sciences, Henan Agricultural University, Zhengzhou 450002, China. Tel: +86-371-5557633; E-mail: yexiefeng@163.com. Jimin Cheng, Institute of Soil and Water Conservation, Chinese Academy of Sciences and Ministry of Water Resources, Yangling 712100,China. Tel: +86-29-87012411; E-mail: gyzcjm@ms.iswc.ac.cn
  • Received:2018-09-14 Revised:2019-04-12 Accepted:2019-07-23 Published:2019-12-01



Clipping or mowing for hay, as a prevalent land-use practice, is considered to be an important component of global change. Root production and turnover in response to clipping have great implications for the plant survival strategy and grassland ecosystem carbon processes. However, our knowledge about the clipping effect on root dynamics is mainly based on root living biomass, and limited by the lack of spatial and temporal observations. The study aim was to investigate the effect of clipping on seasonal variations in root length production and mortality and their distribution patterns in different soil layers in semiarid grassland on the Loess Plateau.


Clipping was performed once a year in June to mimic the local spring livestock grazing beginning from 2014. The minirhizotron technique was used to monitor the root production, mortality and turnover rate at various soil depths (0–10, 10–20, 20–30 and 30–50 cm) in 2014 (from 30 May to 29 October) and 2015 (from 22 April to 25 October). Soil temperature and moisture in different soil layers were also measured during the study period.

Important Findings

Our results showed that: (i) Clipping significantly decreased the cumulative root production (P < 0.05) and increased the cumulative root mortality and turnover rates of the 0–50 cm soil profile for both years. (ii) Clipping induced an immediate and sharp decrease in root length production and an increase in root length mortality in all soil layers. However, with plant regrowth, root production increased and root mortality decreased gradually, with the root production at a depth of 30–50 cm even exceeding the control in September–October 2014 and April–May 2015. (iii) Clipping mainly reduced root length production and increased root length mortality in the upper 0–20 cm soil profile with rapid root turnover. However, roots at deeper soil layers were either little influenced by clipping or exhibited an opposite trend with slower turnover rate compared with the upper soil profile, leading to the downward transport of root production and living root biomass. These findings indicate that roots in deeper soil layers tend to favour higher root biomass and longer fine root life spans to maximize the water absorption efficiency under environmental stress, and also suggest that short-term clipping would reduce the amount of carbon through fine root litter into the soil, especially in the shallow soil profile.

Key words: clipping, root dynamics, vertical root distribution, seasonal variation in root growth, temperate grassland