Cyclic formation of zokor mounds promotes plant diversity and renews plant communities in alpine meadows on the Tibetan Plateau

  • Yujie Niu
  • Siwei Yang
  • Huimin Zhu
  • Jianwei Zhou
  • Bin Chu
  • Sujie Ma
  • Rui Hua
  • Limin HuaEmail author
Regular Article



Disturbance regimes are changing rapidly, along with the generation of patchy habitats, and the consequences of such changes for ecosystems will be profound. Plateau zokor mounds are a common natural disturbance on the Tibetan Plateau, and this disturbance leads to bare patches, and catalyse new paradigms of plant community dynamics in alpine ecosystems.


We investigated, over 6 consecutive years, the dynamic changes of new zokor mounds, the effects of different zokor mound densities on plant diversity in alpine meadows at the spatial scale, and successional shifts in plant community on the bare mound patches at the temporal scale.


The results showed that as the mound density increased, the species diversity and biomass of the plant communities (within mound-free regions between the mounds) significantly increased. Zokor mounds representing different successional stages comprise a mosaic and together constitute the alpine meadow. The cycle of plant succession on the bare mounds is about 6 years in length. The pioneer species were mainly rhizomatous grasses and broadleaf forbs. As succession progressed, the dominant species differed among the different mound patches. However, at the end of succession, the dominant species were grasses, and the species compositions were similar in the communities. The plant succession on the bare mound patches of the alpine meadow is a developmental process from founder-controlled to dominance-controlled communities.


The coupling between patch-to-patch mosaic on different phases and year-to-year succession on bare mound patches is very important for species coexistence and promotes alpine meadow renewal.


Natural disturbance Patch dynamics Zokor mounds Succession Mosaic community Plant community renewal Tibetan plateau 



The work reported in this paper was financially supported by the Fostering Foundation for the Excellent Ph.D. Dissertation of Gansu Agricultural University (No. YB2017001), the National Key Research and Development Program (No. 2017YFC0504803, No. 2016YFC0501902), the Discipline Construction Fund Project of Gansu Agricultural University (No. GAU-XKJS-2018-006, No. GAU-XKJS-2018-014), and the program (Synergy Innovation Team Program Funded by the Gansu Education Department).

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yujie Niu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Siwei Yang
    • 3
  • Huimin Zhu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jianwei Zhou
    • 1
    • 2
  • Bin Chu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Sujie Ma
    • 4
  • Rui Hua
    • 1
    • 2
  • Limin Hua
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.College of Grassland ScienceGansu Agricultural UniversityLanzhouChina
  2. 2.Key Laboratory of Grassland Ecosystem of the Ministry of EducationLanzhouChina
  3. 3.Bijie Institute of Animal and Veterinary ScienceBijieChina
  4. 4.College of Animal ScienceTibet Agriculture & Animal Husbandry UniversityLinzhiChina

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