Plant Ecology

, Volume 216, Issue 4, pp 599–613 | Cite as

Grazing and watering alter plant phenological processes in a desert steppe community

  • Juanjuan Han
  • Jiquan Chen
  • Jianyang Xia
  • Linghao LiEmail author


Phenology is well recognized as one of the most sensitive indicators of environmental change. Previous studies have focused on flowering phenology with few efforts given to the phenological successes and vegetative processes. Additionally, grazing is often characterized as a driver for community evolutionary processes, while precipitation is known as the most important abiotic cue in arid regions. Given this knowledge, we installed a nested experiment in a desert steppe to explore the coupled effects of grazing and watering on plant species’ reproductive successes and phenological timing in 2012–2013. We found that grazing increased the proportion of non-flowering individuals, with a greater proportion in 2013 than that in 2012. It decreased species richness and changed the habitat preferences in both years, and watering also reduced the richness in both years. Grazing also delayed the phenological timing for some dominant species and significantly delayed the green-up timing (5.67 days) and shortened the growing season length (GSL) in both 2012 (7.74 days) and 2013 (4.71 days). The application of watering, however, delayed some dominant species’ timing—including the browning timing of five dominate species ranging from 9.57 days in 2013 to 1.93 days in 2012—but it did not delay the species’ green-up timing. This resulted in a significantly prolonged growing season in 2013 (8.58 days). The high soil water and optimal soil temperature in the spring of 2013 contributed to an earlier green-up time (6.1 days) than in 2012.


Reproductive phenology Foliar damage Phenotypic plasticity Arid environment 



We thank Dr. Guodong Han for maintaining the herbivory platform for many years. We also thank the faculty of the field station for their generous help in experiment establishment and measurements, Dr. Wenping Yuan and Guofang Liu for the experimental design and statistical analyses, and Dr. Shiping Chen for her climatic data from the EC tower. We thank Lisa Delp Taylor and Gabriela Shirkey for proofreading and polishing the language of the manuscript. This study was partially supported by the Natural Science Foundation of China (31229001, 31130008), the IceMe of the NUIST, and the “Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems (CNH)” Program of the NSF (#1313761).

Supplementary material

11258_2015_462_MOESM1_ESM.eps (59 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (EPS 59 kb). Figure S1. Changes in the reproductive phases under the treatments of grazing (G) and watering (W) across the two studied years. Negative values (−) indicate the contracted reproductive phases and positive values (+) indicate extended reproductive phases
11258_2015_462_MOESM2_ESM.eps (4 mb)
Supplementary material 2 (EPS 4082 kb). Figure S2. The phenological shifts on green-up, reproductive, and browning phases of Stipa breviflora
11258_2015_462_MOESM3_ESM.doc (29 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (DOC 29 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juanjuan Han
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jiquan Chen
    • 1
    • 3
  • Jianyang Xia
    • 4
  • Linghao Li
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.International Center for Ecology, Meteorology, and Environment (IceMe)Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology (NUIST)NanjingChina
  2. 2.Key Laboratory of Vegetation and Environmental Change, Institute of BotanyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.CGCEO/GeographyMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  4. 4.Department of Microbiology and Plant BiologyUniversity of OklahomaNormanUSA

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