, Volume 54, Issue 1, pp 3–11 | Cite as

Photosynthetic response of desert plants to small rainfall events in the Junggar Basin, northwest China

  • Y. Wu
  • X. J. Zheng
  • Y. Li
Original Papers


Small rainfall events (≤ 5 mm) have short intervals, but account for a large proportion of the annual rainfall frequency in arid lands. To explore possible strategies used by desert plants to utilize the small rainfall events, we investigated the photosynthetic responses of 28 species to 1 mm and 6 mm of simulated rainfall in the Junggar Basin, northwest China. The species were grouped into four plant functional types: short-life-cycle herbs, long-life-cycle herbs, non-phreatophyte shrubs, and phreatophyte shrubs. The results showed that the net photosynthetic rate, stomatal conductance, and transpiration rate increased in most of the herbs, but they responded differently to the rainfall treatments. However, the water-use efficiency did not significantly differ after 1 and 6 mm rainfall treatments in most of the shrubs. The maximum water absorption by leaves and the percentage increase of a leaf water content (LWC) were higher in the herbs than those in the shrubs. Plants with dense trichomes had the highest LWC. The results suggested that the desert plants benefited from the micro-environment humidity provided by the small rainfall events.

Additional key words

leaf water uptake photosynthetic rate plant functional types stomatal conductance trichome water-use efficiency 



transpiration rate


maximum photochemical efficiency of photosystem II


stomatal conductance


percentage increase of leaf water content


maximum water absorption by leaves


natural rainfall (control)


net photosynthetic rate


simulated rainfall


soil water content




water-use efficiency (= P N/E)


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Copyright information

© The Institute of Experimental Botany 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Lab of Oasis and Desert Ecology, Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and GeographyChinese Academy of SciencesUrumqi, XinjiangChina
  2. 2.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

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