Plant and Soil

, Volume 340, Issue 1–2, pp 279–289 | Cite as

Short-term regrowth responses of four steppe grassland species to grazing intensity, water and nitrogen in Inner Mongolia

  • Nicole Fanselow
  • Philipp Schönbach
  • Xiao Ying Gong
  • Shan Lin
  • Friedhelm Taube
  • Ralf Loges
  • Qingmin Pan
  • Klaus DittertEmail author
Regular Article


Inner Mongolia steppe grasslands are widely used for livestock farming and the regrowth ability of grassland species is therefore strongly influenced not only by water and nutrient availability but also quite heavily by grazing. However, little is known on how grazing, water and nitrogen interactively affect the dominant C3 species (Leymus chinensis, Stipa grandis, Agropyron cristatum) and the C4 species (Cleistogenes squarrosa). Therefore in the 2007 and 2008 growing seasons, a field experiment was carried out to test the hypothesis that under different grazing intensities the dominant species show different short-term regrowth response to simultaneous variation in the availability of water and nitrogen. Single factor and interaction effects of the addition of water (rainfed vs. simulated wet-year) and nitrogen (0 or 25 kg N ha−1) were analysed along a gradient of four grazing intensities (ungrazed, lightly, moderately and heavily grazed) after one month of grazing exclusion. Water and nitrogen addition affected short-term regrowth of all species in a similar way whereas species responded differently to grazing. Simulated wet-year water availability consistently resulted in higher standing biomass, relative growth rate and cellulase digestible organic matter yield. Supplementary nitrogen promoted standing biomass and crude protein concentration. The nutritive value of all species’ standing biomass showed a similar increase with more intensive grazing. However, heavy grazing led to a clear shift in the relative biomass of the species, i.e. mainly a promotion of the C4 grass, C. squarrosa. In contrast to our hypothesis, there were no differences among species in their response to water or nitrogen addition, whereas, heavy grazing induced the expected species-specific response. Our results suggest that heavy grazing rather than nitrogen or water determine short-term shifts in species composition of the investigated steppe ecosystem. Furthermore, differences in the species-specific growth response to grazing may increase the proportion of the C4 grass C. squarrosa in steppe communities, whereas higher availability of nitrogen and water may lead to higher forage biomass and nutritive value of all investigated species but in short-term cannot compensate for the grazing induced changes in species composition.


Nutritive value Agropyron cristatum Cleistogenes squarrosa Leymus chinensis Stipa grandis 



We acknowledge the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) for funding the research group 536 MAGIM (Matter fluxes of grassland in Inner Mongolia as influenced by stocking rate; project DI 546/3-2), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC 41071207), Karin Makoben for chemical laboratory analysis, Prof. Dr. Bernhofer and Lei Wang for providing meteorological data, Dr. Yuandi Zhu for her support with all organizational work in China, and Dr. Mario Hasler for help with statistical data analysis.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicole Fanselow
    • 1
  • Philipp Schönbach
    • 2
  • Xiao Ying Gong
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Shan Lin
    • 3
  • Friedhelm Taube
    • 2
  • Ralf Loges
    • 2
  • Qingmin Pan
    • 4
  • Klaus Dittert
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Institute of Plant Nutrition and Soil ScienceChristian-Albrechts UniversityKielGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Crop Science and Plant Breeding - Grass and Forage Science/Organic AgricultureChristian-Albrechts UniversityKielGermany
  3. 3.Department of Plant NutritionChina Agriculture UniversityBeijingPeople’s Republic of China
  4. 4.Institute of BotanyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingPeople’s Republic of China

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