Chin J Plant Ecol ›› 2018, Vol. 42 ›› Issue (11): 1094-1102.doi: 10.17521/cjpe.2018.0140

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Variations of root traits in three Xizang grassland communities along a precipitation gradient

ZHOU Wei1,LI Hong-Bo2,*(),ZENG Hui1   

  1. 1School of Urban Planning and Design, Shenzhen Graduate School, Peking University, Shenzhen 518055, China
    2Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
  • Received:2018-06-11 Accepted:2018-10-16 Online:2019-03-13 Published:2018-11-20
  • Contact: Hong-Bo LI
  • Supported by:
    Supported by the National Key R&D Program of China(2016YFC0501802)


Aims Root functional traits and their variations mediate coexistence and adaptive strategy of plant species. Yet, strong environmental constraints may induce convergence of root traits among different plant species. To study the variations of root traits and clarify the diverse adaptive strategies across plant species, we sampled three alpine grasslands along a precipitation gradient in the Xizang Plateau.
Methods In three grassland communities along a precipitation gradient: Nagqu, Baingoin and Nyima from east to west of Xizang Plateau, we collected 22 coexisting plant species and measured three key root traits: 1st-order root diameter, 1st-order lateral root length and root branch intensity.
Important findings The main results showed that: (1) the root of plants in the alpine grassland was generally thin, and the interspecific variation was also small (22.76%); (2) the root diameter of 86% plant species was in the range from 0.073 mm to 0.094 mm. Compared with the thick-root species, thin-root species had a higher root branching intensity, but shorter lateral root length. In addition, at community-level, plants mainly increased root diameter and lateral root length, but reduced root branching intensity to adapt to the decreasing precipitation; while at species-level, the plant species exhibited diverse adaptive strategies along the precipitation gradient.

Key words: trait variation, adaptive strategy, root branching, root diameter, root length, alpine grassland

Table 1

Basic information of the sampling sites of root in Xizang alpine grassland communities"

Latitude and
Mean annual
temperature (℃)
Mean annual
precipitation (mm)
Elevation (m)
Soil N (%)
Soil C (%)
Soil C:N
那曲 Nagqu 31.65° N, 92.02° E -2.2 445 4 600 0.193 1.965 22.97
班戈 Baingoin 31.43° N, 90.03° E -1.2 329 4 700 0.117 1.081 13.93
尼玛 Nyima 32.08° N, 86.90° E -3.1 286 4 780 0.115 2.062 18.24

Fig. 1

Variations of phylogeny and traits among the 22 plant species in the alpine grassland."

Table 2

Summary of the three root traits for 22 species in Xizang alpine grassland"

根属性 Root trait 最小值 Min. 最大值 Max. 平均值 Mean 变异系数 Coefficient of variation (%)
一级根直径 1st-order root diameter (mm) 0.073 0.142 0.088 22.76
一级根长度 1st-order root length (mm) 0.335 5.239 1.541 80.19
根系分支强度 Root branching intensity ( 1.119 12.041 4.439 61.05

Table 3

Pearson correlations with (top right) and without (bottom left) phylogenetically independent contrasts for root traits across 22 species in Xizang alpine grassland"

根属性 Root trait 一级根直径 1st-order root diameter 分支强度 Root branching intensity 一级根长度 1st-order root length
一级根直径 1st-order root diameter -0.008ns 0.672**
根系分支强度 Root branching intensity -0.432* -0.139ns
一级根长度 1st-order root length 0.728** -0.573**

Fig. 2

Community-weighted root traits of the three grasslands along the precipitation gradient in Xizang alpine grassland."

Fig. 3

Root trait mean values of seven regionally common species (appearing in two or three sites at the same time) at three grassland sites (mean + SE) in Xizang alpine grassland. Ad, Artemisia demissa; Ts, Trisetum spicatum; Lp, Leontopodium pusillum; Sp, Stipa purpurea; Pb, Potentilla bifurca; Om, Oxytropis microphylla; Hs, Heteropappus semiprostratus."

Fig. 4

The average percentage of root traits of seven regionally common species (appearing in two or three sites at the same time) to water stress at three grassland sites in Xizang alpine grassland. Ad, Artemisia demissa; Ts, Trisetum spicatum; Lp, Leontopodium pusillum; Sp, Stipa purpurea; Pb, Potentilla bifurca; Om, Oxytropis microphylla; Hs, Heteropappus semiprostratus."

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