Chin J Plan Ecolo ›› 2016, Vol. 40 ›› Issue (8): 748-759.doi: 10.17521/cjpe.2016.00051

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Effects of grazing intensity and grazing exclusion on litter decomposition in the temperate steppe of Nei Mongol, China

Li-Li YANG, Ji-Rui GONG*(), Yi-Hui WANG, Min LIU, Qin-Pu LUO, Sha XU, Yan PAN, Zhan-Wei ZHAI   

  1. Laboratory of Earth Surface Processes and Resource Ecology, Beijing Normal University, College of Resources Science & Technology, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China
  • Online:2016-08-23 Published:2016-08-10
  • Contact: Ji-Rui GONG E-mail:jrgong@bnu.edu.cn

Abstract:

Aims Grazing intensity and grazing exclusion affect ecosystem carbon cycling by changing the plant community and soil micro-environment in grassland ecosystems. The aims of this study were: 1) to determine the effects of grazing intensity and grazing exclusion on litter decomposition in the temperate grasslands of Nei Mongol; 2) to compare the difference between above-ground and below-ground litter decomposition; 3) to identify the effects of precipitation on litter production and decomposition. Methods We measured litter production, quality, decomposition rates and soil nutrient contents during the growing season in 2011 and 2012 in four plots, i.e. light grazing, heavy grazing, light grazing exclusion and heavy grazing exclusion. Quadrate surveys and litter bags were used to measure litter production and decomposition rates. All data were analyzed with ANOVA and Pearson’s correlation procedures in SPSS. Important findings Litter production and decomposition rates differed greatly among four plots. During the two years of our study, above-ground litter production and decomposition in heavy-grazing plots were faster than those in light-grazing plots. In the dry year, below-ground litter production and decomposition in light-grazing plots were faster than those in heavy-grazing plots, which is opposite to the findings in the wet year. Short-term grazing exclusion could promote litter production, and the exclusion of light-grazing could increase litter decomposition and nutrient cycling. In contrast, heavy-grazing exclusion decreased litter decomposition. Thus, grazing exclusion is beneficial to the restoration of the light-grazing grasslands, and more human management measures are needed during the restoration of heavy-grazing grasslands. Precipitation increased litter production and decomposition, and below-ground litter was more vulnerable to the inter-annual change of precipitation than above-ground litter. Compared to the light-grazing grasslands, heavy-grazing grasslands had higher sensitivity to precipitation. The above-ground litter decomposition was strongly positively correlated with the litter N content (R2 = 0.489, p < 0.01) and strongly negatively correlated with the soil total N content (R2 = 0.450, p < 0.01), but it was not significantly correlated with C:N and lignin:N. Below-ground litter decomposition was negatively correlated with the litter C (R2 = 0.263, p < 0.01), C:N (R2 = 0.349, p < 0.01) and cellulose content (R2 = 0.460, p < 0.01). Our results will provide a theoretical basis for ecosystem restoration and the research of carbon cycling.

Key words: grazing intensity, grazing exclusion, precipitation, litter decomposition, litter production, litter quality

Table 1

Basic information of the sampling plots (mean ± SE, n = 5)"

样地基本信息 Basic information of the sampling plots 轻度放牧样地 Light grazing plot 重度放牧样地 Heavy grazing plot
平均高度 Average height (cm) 13.11 ± 1.46b 19.85 ± 1.13a
平均盖度 Average coverage (%) 57.36 ± 3.92a 65.29 ± 2.55a
地上生物量 Above-ground biomass (g·m-2) 62.26 ± 0.89b 108.76 ± 5.51a
粪便数 Number of feces (No.·m-2) 575.50 ± 2.04b 1 230.00 ± 12.25a

Table 2

The impact of sampling plots, year and their interactions on above- ground litter production, quality, decomposition and soil total C and N"

Y P Y × P
凋落物产量 Litter production < 0.01 < 0.01 < 0.01
凋落物分解速率 Litter decomposition < 0.01 < 0.01 < 0.01
凋落物C 含量 Litter C content < 0.01 < 0.01 0.02
凋落物N含量 Litter N content 0.01 0.04 0.01
凋落物纤维素含量 Litter cellulose content < 0.01 < 0.01 0.01
凋落物木质素含量 Litter lignin content < 0.01 0.02 0.03
凋落物C:N Litter C:N < 0.01 < 0.01 0.27
凋落物木质素:N Litter lignin:N < 0.01 < 0.01 < 0.01
土壤全C Soil total C 0.01 < 0.01 < 0.01
土壤全N Soil total N < 0.01 0.01 0.03

Table 3

The impact of sampling plots, year and their interactions on below-ground litter production, quality and decomposition rates"

Y P Y × P
凋落物产量 Litter production < 0.01 < 0.01 < 0.01
凋落物分解速率 Litter decomposition < 0.01 < 0.01 < 0.01
凋落物C含量 Litter C content < 0.01 < 0.01 0.09
凋落物N含量 Litter N content 0.07 < 0.01 < 0.01
凋落物纤维素含量 Litter cellulose content < 0.01 < 0.01 0.04
凋落物木质素含量 Litter lignin content 0.45 < 0.01 < 0.01
凋落物C:N Litter C:N < 0.01 0.05 < 0.01
凋落物木质素:N Litter lignin:N 0.40 0.07 < 0.01

Fig. 1

Above-ground (A) and below-ground (B) litter production in the four treatment plots in 2011 and 2012 (mean ± SE). Capital letters indicate significant difference in litter production between different plots in 2011 at 0.05 levels, and lowercase letters indicate significant difference in litter production between different plots in 2012 at 0.05 levels. HG, heavy-grazing; HGE, heavy-grazing exclusion; LG, light-grazing; LGE, light-grazing exclusion ."

Fig. 2

Above-ground litter C content (A), N content (B), C:N (C), cellulose content (D), lignin content (E) and lignin:N (F) in four plots in 2011 and 2012 (mean ± SE). Capital letters indicate significant difference in litter quality between different plots in 2011 at 0.05 levels, and lowercase letters indicate significant difference in litter quality between different plots in 2012 at 0.05 levels. HG, heavy-grazing; HGE, heavy-grazing exclusion; LG, light-grazing; LGE, light-grazing exclusion."

Fig. 3

Below-ground litter C content (A), N content (B), C:N (C), cellulose content (D), lignin content (E) and lignin:N (F) in four plots in 2011 and 2012 (mean ± SE). Different capital letters indicate significant difference in litter quality between different plots in 2011 at 0.05 levels, and different lowercase letters indicate significant difference in litter quality between different plots in 2012 at 0.05 levels. HG, heavy-grazing; HGE, heavy-grazing exclusion; LG, light-grazing; LGE, light-grazing exclusion."

Fig. 4

Aboveground (A) and belowground (B) litter decomposition rates (k) in four plots in 2011 and 2012 (mean ± SE). Different capital letters indicate significant difference in litter decomposition rate between different plots in 2011 at 0.05 levels, and different lowercase letters indicate significant difference in litter decomposition rate between different plots in 2012 at 0.05 levels. HG, heavy-grazing; HGE, heavy-grazing exclusion; LG, light-grazing; LGE, light-grazing exclusion."

Fig. 5

Soil total C (A) and total N content (B) in four plots in 2011 and 2012 (mean ± SE). Different capital letters indicate significant difference in soil nutrient content between different plots in 2011 at 0.05 levels, and different lowercase letters indicate significant difference in soil nutrient content between different plots in 2012 at 0.05 levels. HG, heavy-grazing; HGE, heavy-grazing exclusion; LG, light-grazing; LGE, light-grazing exclusion."

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