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Relationships between foliar carbon isotope composition and elements of C3 species in grasslands of Inner Mongolia, China


Foliar elements and their ratios can be related to foliar carbon isotope composition (δ13C) through their involvement in plant transpiration, photosynthesis, and osmotic adjustment. In order to investigate these relationships in grasslands of Inner Mongolia, China, δ13C and element contents of dominant C3 species at 47 grassland sites were determined. For C3 species, δ13C showed no correlation with carbon (C), positive correlations with nitrogen (N), nitrogen:phosphorus ratio (N/P) and carbon:phosphorus ratio (C/P), and negative correlations with phosphorus (P), potassium (K), and carbon:nitrogen ratio (C/N), while correlation with P was subsidiary to positive correlation between P and K. These correlations indicate that plants in Inner Mongolia that survive in dry conditions may profit from their higher water use efficiency via stomatal regulation and N-related photosynthetic capacity rather than K-related osmotic adjustment and P-related photosynthetic capacity. Further, plants adapt to severe environments by having higher water and phosphorus use efficiency at the expense of nitrogen use efficiency. However, these correlations differed among plant functional groups (PFGs), e.g., δ13C was negatively correlated with N in shrubs in contrast to other life forms. A possible explanation is that shrubs adapt to low N availability by having lower photosynthetic nitrogen use efficiency (PNUE), so that N is not positively related to photosynthetic rate in shrubs. Obviously, data on stomatal conductance, PNUE, and cell osmotic pressure are needed to fully understand these correlations and the strategies of plants adapted to arid environments.

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The research was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grants 31400413, 31070427), the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (Grant N130301001), the Doctoral Scientific Research Foundation of Liaoning Province (Grant 20141017), the National Key Technology Research and Development Program of the Ministry of Science and Technology of China (Grant 2013BAC03B04), and the National Key Basic Research Program of China (2010CB950902). We thank Lupeng Gao, Lulu Song, and Bin Han for field work, and Wenyan Zhang for sample determination. Comments provided by reviewers of the paper considerably improved interpretation of its results.

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Correspondence to Jiang-Wen Fan.

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Communicated by Kun-Fang Cao.

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Zhou, Y., Cheng, X., Fan, J. et al. Relationships between foliar carbon isotope composition and elements of C3 species in grasslands of Inner Mongolia, China. Plant Ecol 217, 883–897 (2016).

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  • Foliar carbon isotope composition
  • Foliar elements
  • Steppe grassland
  • Plant functional groups
  • Mean annual precipitation
  • Inner Mongolia, China