, Volume 191, Issue 3, pp 697–708 | Cite as

Asymmetric responses of plant community structure and composition to precipitation variabilities in a semi-arid steppe

  • Mingxing Zhong
  • Jian Song
  • Zhenxing Zhou
  • Jingyi Ru
  • Mengmei Zheng
  • Ying Li
  • Dafeng Hui
  • Shiqiang WanEmail author
Global change ecology – original research


Changing precipitation regimes can profoundly affect plant growth in terrestrial ecosystems, especially in arid and semi-arid regions. However, how changing precipitation, especially extreme precipitation events, alters plant diversity and community composition is still poorly understood. A 3-year field manipulative experiment with seven precipitation treatments, including − 60%, − 40%, − 20%, 0% (as a control), + 20%, + 40%, and + 60% of ambient growing-season precipitation, was conducted in a semi-arid steppe in the Mongolian Plateau. Results showed total plant community cover and forb cover were enhanced with increased precipitation and reduced under decreased precipitation, whereas grass cover was suppressed under the − 60% treatment only. Plant community and grass species richness were reduced by the − 60% treatment only. Moreover, our results demonstrated that total plant community cover was more sensitive to decreased than increased precipitation under normal and extreme precipitation change, and species richness was more sensitive to decreased than increased precipitation under extreme precipitation change. The community composition and low field water holding capacity may drive this asymmetric response. Accumulated changes in community cover may eventually lead to changes in species richness. However, compared to control, Shannon–Weiner index (H) did not respond to any precipitation treatment, and Pielou’s evenness index (E) was reduced under the + 60% treatment across the 3 year, but not in each year. Thus, the findings suggest that plant biodiversity in the semi-arid steppe may have a strong resistance to precipitation pattern changes through adjusting its composition in a short term.


Dominated species Extreme precipitation Functional groups Sensitivity Species richness 



The authors thank Qian Zhang, Hongyan Han, and Fanglong Su for their help in the field experiments.

Author contribution statement

MXZ and SW conceived the ideas and designed methodology; MXZ, YM, AZ, ZZ, JR, MMZ, YL collected the data; MXZ and SW analyzed the data; MXZ, DH, and SW led the writing of the manuscript. All authors contributed critically to the drafts and gave final approval for publication.


This study was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31430015 and 31830012).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

442_2019_4520_MOESM1_ESM.docx (194 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 194 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.International Joint Research Laboratory for Global Change Ecology, College of Life SciencesHenan UniversityKaifengChina
  2. 2.College of Life ScienceHebei UniversityBaodingChina
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesTennessee State UniversityNashvilleUSA

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