Plant and Soil

, Volume 307, Issue 1–2, pp 41–50 | Cite as

Belowground net primary productivity and biomass allocation of a grassland in Inner Mongolia is affected by grazing intensity

  • Ying Zhi Gao
  • Marcus Giese
  • Shan Lin
  • Burkhard Sattelmacher
  • Ying Zhao
  • Holger BrueckEmail author
Regular Article


The root system of permanent grasslands is of outstanding importance for resource acquisition. Particularly under semi-arid conditions, the acquisition of water and nutrients is highly variable during the vegetation growth period and between years. Additionally, grazing is repeatedly disturbing the functional equilibrium between the root system and the transpiring leaf canopy. However, very few data is available considering grazing effects on belowground net primary productivity (BNPP) and root-shoot dry mass allocation in natural grassland systems. We hypothesise that grazing significantly reduces BNPP due to carbon reallocation to shoot growth. Root biomass and BNPP were estimated by soil coring in 2004, 2005 and 2006 and from ingrowth cores in 2005 and 2006 at one site which has been protected from grazing since 1979 (UG79), at one winter grazing (WG), and one heavily grazed (HG) site. BNPP was estimated from the summation of significant increments of total and live root biomass and from accumulated root biomass of ingrowth cores. Belowground biomass varied from 1,490–2,670 g m−2 and was significantly lower under heavy grazing than at site UG79. Root turnover varied from 0.23 to 0.33 year−1 and was not significantly different between sites. Heavy grazing significantly decreased live root biomass and BNPP compared to site UG79. Taking BNPP estimates from live root biomass dynamics and ingrowth cores as the most reliable values, the portion of dry mass allocated belowground relative to total net primary productivity (BNPP/NPP) varied between 0.50–0.66 and was reduced under heavy grazing in 2005, but not in 2006. The positive correlation between cumulative root length density of ingrowth cores and leaf dry matter suggests that the ingrowth core method is suitable for studying BNPP in this semi-arid steppe system. Grazing effects on BNPP and BNPP/NPP should be considered in regional carbon models and estimates of belowground nutrient cycling.


BNPP Cumulative root length density Grazing intensity Ingrowth core method Semi-arid grassland 



This work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, SA 359/30–1) embedded into the joint-research project FG 536, MAGIM, and the National Nature Science Foundation of China (NSFC, 40471077). We would like to thank IMGERS meteorological station for providing climatic data and Mrs. Qing Chen for her help in field work and Dr. Zhiyong Zhou for encouraging discussion. We also thank Dr. Daniel Milchunas for his constructive suggestions on earlier drafts of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ying Zhi Gao
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Marcus Giese
    • 1
    • 2
  • Shan Lin
    • 2
  • Burkhard Sattelmacher
    • 5
  • Ying Zhao
    • 1
  • Holger Brueck
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.Institute of Plant Nutrition and Soil ScienceChristian-Albrechts University of KielKielGermany
  2. 2.Department of Plant NutritionChina Agricultural UniversityBeijingChina
  3. 3.Key Laboratory of Vegetation EcologyNortheast Normal UniversityChangchunChina
  4. 4.Institute for Plant Production and Agroecology in the Tropics and Subtropics, Section Crop Water Stress ManagementUniversity of HohenheimStuttgartGermany
  5. 5.Institute for Plant Nutrition and Soil ScienceUniversity of KielKielGermany

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