Plant and Soil

, Volume 340, Issue 1–2, pp 141–155 | Cite as

Differential responses of plant functional trait to grazing between two contrasting dominant C3 and C4 species in a typical steppe of Inner Mongolia, China

  • Shuxia Zheng
  • Zhichun Lan
  • Wenhuai Li
  • Ruixin Shao
  • Yumei Shan
  • Hongwei Wan
  • Friedhelm Taube
  • Yongfei BaiEmail author
Regular Article


Plant functional traits have been widely used to study the linkage between environmental drivers, trade-offs among different functions within a plant, and ecosystem structure and functioning. Here, the whole-plant traits, leaf morphological and physiological traits of two dominant species, Leymus chinensis (C3 perennial rhizome grass) and Cleistogenes squarrosa (C4 perennial bunchgrass), were studied in the Inner Mongolia grassland of China, with a grazing experiment including five stocking rates (0, 3.0, 4.5, 7.5, and 9.0 sheep/ha) in 2008 (wet year) and 2009 (dry year). Our results demonstrated that, for both species, the effects of stocking rate, year, and stocking rate × year on whole-plant traits and leaf morphological and physiological traits were highly significant in most cases. The differential responses of plant trait to variation in precipitation were caused by trait trade-offs between the wet and dry years. L. chinensis adopted the high N content and net photosynthetic rate (Pn) in the wet year but both the low N content and Pn in the dry year under grazed conditions. The trait trade-offs of C. squarrosa were characterized by high specific leaf area (SLA) and Pn in the dry year vs. low SLA and Pn in the wet year. Our findings also indicate that C. squarrosa is more resistant to grazing than L. chinensis in terms of avoidance and tolerance traits, particularly under heavy grazing pressure and in the dry year.


Grazing Whole-plant trait Leaf morphological trait Leaf physiological trait Stocking rate Leymus chinensis Cleistogenes squarrosa 



We thank S. P. Chen for providing meteorological data of the study site. This research was supported financially by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (30825008, 30900193) and the State Key Basic Research Development Program of China (2009CB421102).

Supplementary material

11104_2010_369_MOESM1_ESM.doc (118 kb)
Appendix 1 Correlations between whole plant traits, leaf morphological and physiological traits at no grazing, low and high grazing intensities (DOC 117 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shuxia Zheng
    • 1
  • Zhichun Lan
    • 1
  • Wenhuai Li
    • 1
  • Ruixin Shao
    • 2
  • Yumei Shan
    • 3
  • Hongwei Wan
    • 4
  • Friedhelm Taube
    • 4
  • Yongfei Bai
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Vegetation and Environmental Change, Institute of BotanyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.State Key Laboratory of Soil Erosion and Dryland Farming on the Loess Plateau, Institute of Soil and Water ConservationChinese Academy of SciencesYanglingChina
  3. 3.College of Ecology and Environmental ScienceInner Mongolia Agricultural UniversityHohhotChina
  4. 4.Institute of Crop Science and Plant Breeding—Grass and Forage Science/Organic AgricultureChristian-Albrechts-UniversityKielGermany

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