Nutrient reallocation between stem and leaf drives grazed grassland degradation in inner Mongolia, China

BMC Plant Biol. 2022 Oct 29;22(1):505. doi: 10.1186/s12870-022-03875-4.


BACKGROUND: Decline in height and aboveground biomass of the plant community are critical indicators of grassland ecosystem degradation. Nutrient reallocation induced by grazing occurs among different organs, which balances the trade-off between growth and defense. However, it is not yet clear how nutrient reallocation strategies affect plant community structure and functions in grazed grasslands. A grazing experiment was conducted in a typical steppe in Inner Mongolia, China. We investigated plant community characteristics and measured plant functional traits of dominant species (Leymus chinensis and Cleistogenes squarrosa) at individual and population levels. Carbon (C), nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), and zinc (Zn) concentrations of stem and leaf in the two species were also determined.

RESULTS: N, P, Cu, Fe, Mn, and Zn concentrations in leaves and stems of L. chinensis and C. squarrosa significantly increased with grazing intensity, and microelements (Cu, Fe, Mn, and Zn) were more sensitive to grazing. The nutrient slopes of macro- and microelements in leaves were significantly higher than those in stems under grazing, indicating that nutrient resources were preferentially allocated to leaves and enhanced the compensatory growth of leaves in the grazed grassland. With increasing grazing intensity, the aboveground biomass of stems and leaves in the two species significantly decreased, but leaf to stem ratio increased at the individual level, indicating that plants preferentially allocated biomass to leaves under grazing. The increase in leaf to stem ratio due to nutrient reallocation between the two organs significantly reduced height and aboveground biomass at population and community levels, driving grassland ecosystem degradation.

CONCLUSION: Our study revealed the driving forces of community structure and function degradation in grazed grasslands from the perspective of nutrient resource allocation, and provided insights into plant adaptation strategies to grazing.

PMID:36307761 | DOI:10.1186/s12870-022-03875-4


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