Chin J Plan Ecolo ›› 2016, Vol. 40 ›› Issue (6): 564-573.doi: 10.17521/cjpe.2015.0421

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Response mechanism of plant diversity to herbivore foraging in desert grassland

Wen-Ting LIU1, Zhi-Jun WEI1,*(), Shi-Jie LÜ2, Shi-Xian SUN3, Li-Juan JIA4, Shuang ZHANG1, Tian-Le WANG1, Jing-Zhong DAI1, Zhi-Hong LU1   

  1. 1College of Ecology and Environmental Science, Inner Mongolia Agricultural University, Hohhot 010019, China

    2College of Science, Inner Mongolia Agricultural University, Hohhot 010018, China

    3Institute of Grassland Research, Chinese Academy of Agriculture Sciences, Hohhot 010010, China
    4Sonid Right Banner Station of Grassland Management, Xilingol, Nei Mongol 011200, China
  • Received:2015-11-23 Accepted:2016-05-12 Online:2016-06-15 Published:2016-06-30
  • Contact: Zhi-Jun WEI


Aims The mechanism of herbivore foraging effect on plant diversity and ecosystem functions of grasslands is the core issue of grazing ecology research. This study is aimed to examine 1) how species respond to different grazing intensity in grassland, and how plant diversity responds to different grazing intensity within different organization scales and whether there are cascade effects across multiple organization scales? 2) How herbivore foraging affects plant diversity.Methods Based on a six-year grazing experiment in Sonid Right Banner, Xilingol, the study attempted to explain the relationships between plant diversity and herbivore foraging from two perspectives, i.e. plant diversity index and herbivore preference index.Important findings Results showed that there were four modes for desert grassland plant in response to herbivore: grazing-hidden species, grazing-sensitive species, grazing-non inductive species and absolute dominant species. At the community scale, species diversity index decreased with an increased grazing intensity. Compared with no grazing, heavy grazing and moderate grazing treatments decreased community plant diversity, and the same principle is applicable to the functional group diversity. Further analysis found that differences of grazing species diversity within a functional group were mainly caused by shrubs and semi-shrubs. Compared to plots without grazing, the herbivore preference degree on the whole species was lower for moderate grazing plots than heavy grazing ones. The foraging preference order on the plant functional groups was annual and biennial forbs (AB), perennial forbs (PF), shrubs and semi-shrubs (SS) and perennial grasses (PG). The preferred species were mainly distributed in AB and PF. The diversity index of plant and preference index of herbivore were basically significant and negatively correlated (p < 0.05).

Key words: plant diversity, preference species, herbivore, desert grassland, organization scale

Table 1

Existing plants of the study site"

Plant functional groups
Species code
Plant functional group code
短花针茅 Stipa breviflora 多年生草本 Perennial grasses S1 PG
无芒隐子草 Cleistogenes songorica 多年生草本 Perennial grasses S2 PG
寸草 Carex duriuscula 多年生草本 Perennial grasses S3 PG
木地肤 Kochia prostrata 灌木半灌木 Shrubs and semi-shrubs S4 SS
狭叶锦鸡儿 Caragana stenophylla 灌木半灌木 Shrubs and semi-shrubs S5 SS
戈壁天门冬 Asparagus gobicus 灌木半灌木 Shrubs and semi-shrubs S6 SS
茵陈蒿 Artemisia capillaris 多年生杂类草 Perennial forbs S7 PF
阿尔泰狗娃花 Heteropappus altaicus 多年生杂类草 Perennial forbs S8 PF
碱韭 Allium polyrhizum 多年生杂类草 Perennial forbs S9 PF
二刺叶兔唇花 Lagochilus diacanthophyllus 多年生杂类草 Perennial forbs S10 PF
银灰旋花 Convolvulus ammannii 多年生杂类草 Perennial forbs S11 PF
二型叶棘豆 Oxytropis diversifolia 多年生杂类草 Perennial forbs S12 PF
乳白黄耆 Astragalus galactites 多年生杂类草 Perennial forbs S13 PF
拐轴鸦葱 Scorzonera divaricata 多年生杂类草 Perennial forbs S14 PF
冷蒿 Artemisia frigida 多年生杂类草 Perennial forbs S15 PF
蒙古韭 Allium mongolicum 多年生杂类草 Perennial forbs S16 PF
Allium tuberosum 多年生杂类草 Perennial forbs S17 PF
细叶韭 Allium tenuissimum 多年生杂类草 Perennial forbs S18 PF
二裂委陵菜 Potentilla bifurca 多年生杂类草 Perennial forbs S19 PF
栉叶蒿 Neopallasia pectinata 一二年生草本 Annual and biennial forbs S20 AB
猪毛菜 Salsola collina 一二年生草本 Annual and biennial forbs S21 AB
牻牛儿苗 Erodium stephanianum 一二年生草本 Annual and biennial forbs S22 AB
狗尾草 Setaria viridis 一二年生草本 Annual and biennial forbs S23 AB
画眉草 Eragrostis pilosa 一二年生草本 Annual and biennial forbs S24 AB

Table 2

Variations of monthly precipitation of the study site in 2012 to 2014 (mm)"

2012 0 0.1 10.2 7.5 18.7 42.7 166.6 17.3 33.2 6.6 21.1 4.7
2013 1 0.8 2.6 2.7 1.2 86.9 44.9 60.9 20.8 0.1 6.6 0.5
2014 0 7.2 0 11.6 18.9 15.1 17.7 12.7 18.8 11.6 1.1 0.3

Fig. 1

Sorting of plant multiple response frequency in heavy grazing (HG), moderate grazing (MG) and no grazing (NG). Species and plant functional group code see Table 1."

Fig. 2

Species diversity under plant community in heavy grazing (HG), moderate grazing (MG) and no grazing (NG) (mean ±SE). Different small letters indicate significant differences (p < 0.05)."

Fig. 3

Plant functional group diversity under plant community in heavy grazing (HG), moderate grazing (MG) and no grazing (NG) (mean ± SE). Different small letters indicate significant differences (p < 0.05)."

Table 3

Species diversity within plant functional group in desert grassland (mean ± SE)"

Grazing intensity
Species richness within plant functional groups index
Species diversity within plant functional groups index
Perennial grasses
Shrubs and
Perennial forbs
Annual and
biennial forbs
Perennial grasses
Shrubs and
Perennial forbs
Annual and
biennial forbs
Heavy grazing
2.26 ± 0.09a 0.79 ± 0.08b 3.23 ± 0.14a 0.67 ± 0.12a 0.63 ± 0.04a 0.04 ± 0.03b 0.72 ± 0.04b 0.15 ± 0.05a
Moderate grazing
2.23 ± 0.1a 0.53 ± 0.09b 3.18 ± 0.25a 0.63 ± 0.13a 0.67 ± 0.05a 0.03 ± 0.03ab 0.69 ± 0.07b 0.13 ± 0.05a
No grazing
2.39 ± 0.07a 0.93 ± 0.09a 3.54 ± 0.18a 0.48 ± 0.09a 0.68 ± 0.04a 0.13 ± 0.04a 0.93 ± 0.05a 0.13 ± 0.05a

Fig. 4

Preference index (PI) of herbivore in desert grassland in heavy grazing (HG) and moderate grazing (MG). Species and functional group code see Table 1."

Fig. 5

Pearson relationships between plant diversity and herbivore preference in desert grassland. A, Richness index based on plant species. B, Diversity index based on plant species. C, Richness index based on plant functional groups. D, Diversity index based on plant functional groups. Species code and plant functional groups code see Table 1. *, p < 0.05; **, p < 0.01."

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