Aims Our objective was to better understand the response of plant functional traits of Salsola nitraria to environmental change, such as global climate change and nutrient addition, in desert grassland.
Methods We conducted field experiments of moisture and nutrient additions for three years (2009–2011) in a desert grassland of northwest Xinjiang in China. We investigated plant functional traits of S. nitraria and in the fourth year (2012) measured plant height, stem fresh mass, stem dry mass, leaf fresh mass, leaf dry mass, etc. under different treatments of nutrient and water additions.
Important findings The combination of fertilizer and moisture had a significant influence on stem fresh mass, leaf fresh mass, leaf area, specific leaf area, leaf saturated water content, and leaf dry matter content (two-way ANOVA, p < 0.05), while the effect of either fertilizer or moisture alone was not significant. None of the treatment effects on plant height were significant. The maximum values of plant height, stem fresh weight, stem dry weight, leaf saturated fresh weight, leaf dry weight, leaf area, and specific leaf area appeared in the snow and fertilizer additions (N1W2), and the second highest was in the control (N0W0). Maximum leaf saturated water content was observed in the control (N0W0), and the second highest appeared in the snow and fertilizer additions (N1W2). The fertilizer addition (N1W0) could significantly decrease the level of leaf saturated water content. In all of the treatments, leaf dry matter content was higher than that under the control, and among them, the rain addition (N0W2) significantly increased leaf dry matter content. In the control, there were many significant negative correlations between leaf dry matter content and other functional traits and many significant positive correlations between different functional traits. After the fertilizer and/or moisture addition, the correlation coefficient was reduced. In desert grassland of the Junggar Basin, the different performance of S. nitraria under different treatments was the result of plant adaptations to environmental changes.