, Volume 189, Issue 1, pp 255–266 | Cite as

Clonality-dependent dynamic change of plant community in temperate grasslands under nitrogen enrichment

  • Zhi Zheng
  • Wenming Bai
  • Wen-Hao ZhangEmail author
Global change ecology – original research


Clonal plants with diverse growth forms are dominant in plant community of temperate grasslands and sensitive to enhanced atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition. However, whether and how clonal plants with different growth forms differ in their responses to N deposition remains unclear. We investigated the long-term (14-year) and short-term (4-year) effects of N addition on clonal plants of three growth forms (clumper, stoloniferous and rhizomatous clonal plants) in temperate grasslands of northern China by monitoring the clonal traits and belowground meristems. We found that, for the first time, the effects of N addition on clonal plants were dependent on N-addition duration and growth forms of clonal plants. Short-term N addition enhanced growth of clumper clonal plants, while long-term N addition favored growth of rhizomatous clonal plants and suppressed growth of stoloniferous clonal plants. We further revealed that clumper clonal plants can preempt space by tillering rapidly, thus conferring their dominance in the community and suppressing vegetative reproduction of stoloniferous clonal plants upon exposure to short-term N enhancement. In contrast, long-term N addition depressed initiation of buds and tillering of clumper clonal plants. Moreover, long-term N addition shortened rhizome internode and enhanced vegetative reproduction of rhizomatous clonal plants, leading to their ultimate dominance in the steppe community. Our results highlight the important roles of belowground meristems and clonal traits in control of dynamic changes of plant community in response to N enrichment. These findings provide a new perspective to understand N-induced changes in plant community of temperate grasslands.


Nitrogen deposition Clonal plants Growth form Nitrogen-addition duration Temperate steppe 



We appreciate the constructive suggestions made by the editors and anonymous reviewers on previous version of the manuscript. We thank Professor Gary G. Mittelbach from Michigan State University and Timothy L. Dickson from University of Nebraska Omaha for thoughtful comments on earlier version of the manuscript. We also thank all the field assistance that contributed to this study and staff at the Doulun Restoration Ecology Research Station, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of sciences for their help in maintaining the field facilities. The work was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (31830011, 31570403 and 31470466).

Author contribution statement

WZ and ZZ conceived the ideas and designed methodology; ZZ and WB carried out field work; ZZ and WZ analyzed the data; ZZ and WZ wrote the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

442_2018_4317_MOESM1_ESM.docx (3.1 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 3192 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Tibetan Medicine Research, Northwest Institute of Plateau Biology, The Chinese Academy of SciencesXinningChina
  2. 2.State Key Laboratory of Vegetation and Environmental Change, Institute of Botany, The Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.College of Resource and Environment, University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  4. 4.Inner Mongolia Research Center for Prataculture, Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

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