Chin J Plant Ecol ›› 2023, Vol. 47 ›› Issue (4): 479-490.DOI: 10.17521/cjpe.2022.0211

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Changes of plant biomass, species diversity, and their influencing factors in a desert steppe of northwestern China under long-term changing precipitation

WANG Xiao-Yue1, XU Yi-Xin2, LI Chun-Huan2, YU Hai-Long2, HUANG Ju-Ying1,*()   

  1. 1. Breeding Base for State Key Laboratory of Land Degradation and Ecological Restoration in Northwestern China, Key Laboratory of Restoration and Reconstruction of Degraded Ecosystems in Northwestern China of Ministry of Education, School of Ecology and Environment, Ningxia University, Yinchuan 750021, China
    2. School of Geography and Planning, Ningxia University, Yinchuan 750021, China
  • Received:2022-05-23 Accepted:2022-08-06 Online:2023-04-20 Published:2022-08-06
  • Contact: *(
  • Supported by:
    Natural Science Foundation of Ningxia(2022AAC02012);National Natural Science Foundation of China(32160277);Chinese Academy of Sciences “Young Western Scholars”(XAB2019AW03)


Aims Plant diversity is the basis for plant communities to maintain ecosystem stability. Despite the scarcity of vegetation, desert steppes play an irreplaceable ecological service function in terms of wind-break and sand- fixation, etc. However, how plant diversity in desert steppes responds to long-term extreme precipitation changes still remains poorly understood.

Methods Based on a long-term field experiment involving five precipitation treatments (50% reduction, 30% reduction, natural, 30% increase, and 50% increase) conducted in a desert steppe in Ningxia since 2014, the changing characteristics of plant biomass, species diversity and their relationships with soil properties were studied from May to October in 2020.

Important findings During the growing season, plant community biomass, Patrick richness index and Shannon-Wiener diversity index tended to increase first and then decrease, whereas no obvious regularities in Pielou evenness index and Simpson dominance index. Compared with the natural precipitation, the decreased precipitation had less effect on plant biomass and diversity, especially the 30% reduction in precipitation. In most cases, the increased precipitation stimulated the growth of Sophora alopecuroides, Stipa brevifloraand Pennisetum centrasiaticum,and thus increasing plant biomass. However, it did not significantly change plant diversity when precipitation increased, especially the 30% increase of precipitation. Plant biomass was significantly affected by soil urease activity, temperature, water content, pH, phosphatase activity and sucrase activity, while plant diversity was significantly affected by soil water content, electrical conductivity, and urease activity. In general, the results indicated that plants have high adaptability to moderate or even extreme drought in the research area under seven consecutive years of changing precipitation; moderately increasing precipitation increased soil water availability, enhanced exchangeable ion mobility, and stimulated enzyme activity, thereby promoting plant growth. However, the continuous increase of precipitation leaded to the increase of plant biomass and plant water consumption, resulting in the lack of soil water in the late growth season and then the early completion of the life cycle of some plants.

Key words: changing precipitation pattern, arid and semi-arid region, ecosystem structure, ecosystem function, soil environment