Plant and Soil

, Volume 418, Issue 1–2, pp 241–253 | Cite as

Responses of litter decomposition and nutrient release rate to water and nitrogen addition differed among three plant species dominated in a semi-arid grassland

  • Xue Wang
  • Zhuwen Xu
  • Xiaotao Lü
  • Ruzhen Wang
  • Jiangping Cai
  • Shan Yang
  • Mai-He LiEmail author
  • Yong JiangEmail author
Regular Article


Background and aims

Precipitation and nitrogen (N) deposition are predicted to increase in northern China. The present paper aimed to better understand how different dominant species in semi-arid grasslands in this region vary in their litter decomposition and nutrient release responses to increases in precipitation and N deposition.


Above-ground litter of three dominant species (two grasses, Agropyron cristatum and Stipa krylovii, and one forb, Artemisia frigida) was collected from areas without experimental treatments in a semi-arid grassland in Inner Mongolia. Litter decomposition was studied over three years to determine the effects of water and N addition on litter decomposition rate and nutrient dynamics.


Litter mass loss and nutrient release were faster for the forb species than for the two grasses during decomposition. Both water and N addition increased litter mass loss of the grass A. cristatum, while the treatments showed no impacts on that of the forb A. frigida. Supplemental N had time-dependent, positive effects on litter mass loss of the grass S. krylovii. During the three-year decomposition study, the release of N from litter was inhibited by N addition for the three species, and it was promoted by water addition for the two grasses. Across all treatments, N and potassium (K) were released from the litter of all three species, whereas calcium (Ca) was accumulated. Phosphorus (P) and magnesium (Mg) were released from the forb litter but accumulated in the grass litter after three years of decomposition.


Our findings revealed that the litter decomposition response to water and N supplementation differed among dominant plant species in a semi-arid grassland, indicating that changes in dominant plant species induced by projected increases in precipitation and N deposition are likely to affect litter decomposition, nutrient cycling, and further biogeochemical cycles in this grassland. The asynchronous nutrient release of different species’ litter found in the present study highlights the complexity of nutrient replenishment from litter decomposition in the temperate steppe under scenarios of enhancing precipitation and N deposition.


Litter mass loss Nitrogen deposition Nutrient release Precipitation Perennial forbs Perennial grasses Temperate steppe 



We thank the staff of the Duolun Restoration Ecological Research Station for facilitating this study, and Melissa Dawes for the language correction. This work was supported by the National Key Research and Development Program of China (2016YFC0500707), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41371251, 31370009, 41371076), the Youth Innovation Promotion Association CAS (2014174), and the Sino-Swiss Science and Technology Cooperation (SSSTC) program (Project No. EG 06-032015).

Supplementary material

11104_2017_3288_MOESM1_ESM.docx (47 kb)
Table S1 (DOCX 47 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Xue Wang
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Zhuwen Xu
    • 1
  • Xiaotao Lü
    • 1
  • Ruzhen Wang
    • 1
  • Jiangping Cai
    • 1
    • 3
  • Shan Yang
    • 1
    • 4
  • Mai-He Li
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Yong Jiang
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Institute of Applied Ecology, Chinese Academy of SciencesShenyangChina
  2. 2.Forest DynamicsSwiss Federal Research Institute WSLBirmensdorfSwitzerland
  3. 3.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  4. 4.College of Land and EnvironmentShenyang Agricultural UniversityShenyangChina

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