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Selected Publication:

Ren, HY; Schonbach, P; Wan, HW; Gierus, M; Taube, F.
(2012): Effects of Grazing Intensity and Environmental Factors on Species Composition and Diversity in Typical Steppe of Inner Mongolia, China
PLOS ONE. 2012; 7(12): FullText FullText_BOKU

In the present study, we aim to analyze the effect of grazing, precipitation and temperature on plant species dynamics in the typical steppe of Inner Mongolia, P. R. China. By uncoupling biotic and abiotic factors, we provide essential information on the main drivers determining species composition and species diversity. Effects of grazing by sheep were studied in a controlled experiment along a gradient of seven grazing intensities (from ungrazed to very heavily grazed) during six consecutive years (2005-2010). The results show that plant species composition and diversity varied among years but were little affected by grazing intensity, since the experimental years were much dryer than the long term average, the abiotic constraints may have overridden any grazing effect. Among-year differences were predominantly determined by the abiotic factors of precipitation and temperature. Most of the variation in species dynamics and coexistence between C3 and C4 species was explained by seasonal weather conditions, i.e. precipitation and temperature regime during the early-season (March-June) were most important in determining vegetation dynamics. The dominant C3 species Stipa grandis was highly competitive in March-June, when the temperature levels were low and rainfall level was high. In contrast, the most common C4 species Cleistogenes squarrosa benefited from high early-season temperature levels and low early-season rainfall. However, biomass of Stipa grandis was positively correlated with temperature in March, when effective mean temperature ranges from 0 to 5 degrees C and thus promotes vernalization and vegetative sprouting. Our results suggest that, over a six-year term, it is temporal variability in precipitation and temperature rather than grazing that determines vegetation dynamics and species co-existence of grazed steppe ecosystems. Furthermore, our data support that the variability in the biomass of dominant species, rather than diversity, determine ecosystem functioning. The present study provides fundamental knowledge on the complex interaction of grazing - vegetation - climate.
Authors BOKU Wien:
Gierus Martin
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