Journal of Geographical Sciences

, Volume 29, Issue 9, pp 1507–1525 | Cite as

Spatial patch structure and adaptive strategy for desert shrub of Reaumuria soongorica in arid ecosystem of the Heihe River Basin

  • Wei Li
  • Xiaoyan LiEmail author
  • Yongmei Huang
  • Pei Wang
  • Cicheng Zhang


In many arid ecosystems, vegetation frequently occurs in high-cover patches interspersed in a matrix of low plant cover. However, theoretical explanations for shrub patch pattern dynamics along climate gradients remain unclear on a large scale. This context aimed to assess the variance of the Reaumuria soongorica patch structure along the precipitation gradient and the factors that affect patch structure formation in the middle and lower Heihe River Basin (HRB). Field investigations on vegetation patterns and heterogeneity in soil properties were conducted during 2014 and 2015. The results showed that patch height, size and plant-to-patch distance were smaller in high precipitation habitats than in low precipitation sites. Climate, soil and vegetation explained 82.5% of the variance in patch structure. Spatially, R. soongorica shifted from a clumped to a random pattern on the landscape towards the MAP gradient, and heterogeneity in the surface soil properties (the ratio of biological soil crust (BSC) to bare gravels (BG)) determined the R. soongorica population distribution pattern in the middle and lower HRB. A conceptual model, which integrated water availability and plant facilitation and competition effects, was revealed that R. soongorica changed from a flexible water use strategy in high precipitation regions to a consistent water use strategy in low precipitation areas. Our study provides a comprehensive quantification of the variance in shrub patch structure along a precipitation gradient and may improve our understanding of vegetation pattern dynamics in the Gobi Desert under future climate change.


spatial pattern precipitation soil heterogeneity Reaumuria soongorica Heihe River Basin 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Supplementary material

11442_2019_1674_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (201 kb)
Supplementary material, approximately 228 KB.


  1. Aguiar M R, Sala O A, 1999. Patch structure, dynamics and implications for the functioning of arid ecosystems. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 14: 273–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bai Y F, Wu J G, Xing Q et al., 2008. Primary production and rain use efficiency across a precipitation gradient on the Mongolia Plateau. Ecology, 89: 2140–2153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bedford D R, Small E E, 2008. Spatial patterns of ecohydrologic properties on a hillslope-alluvial fan transect central New Mexico. Catena, 73(1): 34–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bremmer J M, Mulvaney C S, 1982. Nitrogen-total. In: Page A L, Miller R H, Keeney D R (eds.) Methods of Soil Analysis. Part 2: Chemical and Microbiological Properties (Agronomy), vol. 9. American Society of Agronomy, Madison, 595–624.Google Scholar
  5. Casati P, Campi M, Morrow D J et al., 2011. Transcriptomic, proteomic and metabolomic analysis of maize responses to UV-B: Comparison of greenhouse and field growth conditions. Plant Signaling & Behavior, 6(8): 1146–1153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chen L Y, Li H, Zhang P J et al., 2014. Climate and native grassland vegetation as divers of the community structures of shrub-encroached grasslands in Inner Mongolia, China. Landscape Ecology, 30(9): 1627–1641.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cheng X L, An S Q, Li B et al., 2006. Summer rain pulse size and rainwater uptake by three dominant desert plants in a desertified grassland ecosystem in northwestern China. Plant Ecology, 184(1): 1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cipriotti P A, Aguiar M R, 2015. Is the balance between competition and facilitation a driver of the patch dynamics in arid vegetation mosaics? Oikos, 124: 139–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cipriotti P A, Aguiar M R, Wiegand T et al., 2012. Understanding the long-term spatial dynamics of a semiarid grass-shrub steppe through inverse parameterization for simulation models. Oikos, 121(6): 848–861.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Couteron P, Lejeune O, 2001. Periodic spotted patterns in semi-arid vegetation explained by a propagation- inhibition model. Journal of Ecology, 89(4): 616–628.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dan M, Jeltsch F, 2007. Intraspecific facilitation: A missing process along increasing stress gradients - insights from simulated shrub populations. Ecography, 30(3): 339–348.Google Scholar
  12. Du J H, Yan P, Dong Y X et al., 2012. Water driving mechanism of patched vegetation formation in arid areas: A review. Chinese Journal of Ecology, 31(8): 2137–2144. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  13. Dunkerley D L, Brown K J, 1999. Banded vegetation near Broken Hill, Australia: Significance of surface roughness and soil physical properties. Catena, 37(1/2): 75–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fan Y, Li X Y, Huang Y M et al., 2017. Shrub patch configuration in relation to precipitation and soil properties in Northwest China. Ecohydrology, 11(6): e1916.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fu A H, Chen Y N, Li W H, 2014. Water use strategies of the desert riparian forest plant community in the lower reaches of Heihe River Basin, China. Science China: Earth Sciences, 57(6): 1293–1305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gaitán J J, Bran D, Oliva G et al., 2014. Plant species richness and shrub cover attenuate drought effects on ecosystem functioning across Patagonian rangelands. Biology Letters, 10(10). doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2014.0673.Google Scholar
  17. Greig-Smith P, 1983. Quantitative Plant Ecology. London: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  18. Hamerlynck E P, McAuliffe J R, McDonald E V et al., 2002. Ecological responses of two Mojave desert shrubs to soil horizon development and soil water dynamics. Ecology, 83: 768–779.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Harman C J, Lohse K A, Troch P A et al., 2014. Spatial patterns of vegetation, soils, and microtopography from terrestrial laser scanning on two semiarid hillslopes of contrasting lithology. Journal of Geophysical Research Biogeosciences, 119(2): 163–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Holthuijzen M F, Veblen K E, 2015. Grass-shrub associations over a precipitation gradient and their implications for restoration in the Great Basin, USA. PloS One, 10(12). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0143170.Google Scholar
  21. Hu G L, Zhao W Z, Wang G 2011. Reviews on spatial pattern and sand-binding effect of patch vegetation in arid desert area. Acta Ecologica Sinica, 31(24): 7609–4616. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  22. Hufford K M, Mazer S J, Schimel J P, 2014. Soil heterogeneity and the distribution of native grasses in California: Can soil properties inform restoration plans? Ecosphere, 5(4): 1–14.Google Scholar
  23. Kang M Y, Dai C, Ji W Y et al., 2013. Biomass and its allocation in relation to temperature, precipitation, and soil nutrients in Inner Mongolia grasslands, China. PloS One, 8(7). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0069561.Google Scholar
  24. Kéfi S M, Rietkerk C L, Burras B J et al., 2007. Spatial vegetation patterns and imminent desertification in Mediterranean arid ecosystems. Nature, 449: 213–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kröpfl A I, Cecchi G A, Villasuso N M et al., 2013. Degradation and recovery processes in semi-arid patchy rangelands of northern Patagonia, Argentina. Land Degradation & Development, 24(4): 393–399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Li Q S, Zhang C, Wang F et al., 2009. Responses of spatial distribution pattern of Artemisia ordosica population to the precipitation gradient on Ordos Plateau. Chinese Journal of Applied Ecology, 20(9): 2105–2110. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  27. Li X R, Zhang Z S, Huang L et al., 2013. Review of the ecohydrological processes and feedback mechanisms controlling sand-binding vegetation systems in sandy desert regions of China. Chinese Science Bulletin, 58(13): 1483–1496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Li X Y, 2011. Mechanism of coupling, response and adaptation between soil, vegetation and hydrology in arid and semiarid regions. Science Sinica Terrae, 41: 1721–1730. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  29. Li X Y, Zhang S Y, Peng H Y et al., 2013. Soil water and temperature dynamics in shrub-encroached grasslands and climatic implications: Results from Inner Mongolia steppe ecosystem of north China. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 171/172: 20–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Liu M L, Li X R, Liu Y B et al., 2015. Analysis of differentially expressed genes under UV-B radiation in the desert plant Reaumuria soongorica. Gene, 574: 265–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ludwig J A, Tongway D J, Eager R W et al., 1999. Fine-scale vegetation patches decline in size and cover with increasing rainfall in Australian savanna. Landscape Ecology, 14: 557–566.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ludwig J A, Wilcox B P, Breshears D D et al., 2005. Vegetation patches and runoff-erosion as interacting ecohydrological processes in semiarid landscapes. Ecology, 86(2): 288–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Luo W C, Zhao W Z, He Z B et al., 2018. Spatial characteristics of two dominant shrub populations in the transition zone between oasis and desert in the Heihe River Basin, China. Catena, 170: 356–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ma W, Yang Y H, He J et al., 2008. Above- and below-ground biomass in relation to environmental factors in temperate grasslands, Inner Mongolia. Science China Life Sciences, 51: 263–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Malkinson D, Jeltsch F, 2007. Intraspecific facilitation: A missing process along increasing stress gradients - insights from simulated shrub populations. Ecography, 30(3): 339–348.Google Scholar
  36. Mauchamp A, Montaña C, Lepart J et al., 1993. Ecotone dependent recruitment of a desert shrub, Flourensia cernua, in vegetation stripes. Oikos, 68(1): 107–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Merino-Martín L, Breshears D D, Heras M D L et al., 2012. Ecohydrological source-sink interrelationships between vegetation patches and soil hydrological properties along a disturbance gradient reveal a restoration threshold. Restoration Ecology, 20(3): 360–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Pueyo Y, Moret-Fernández D, Saiz H et al., 2013. Relationships between plant spatial patterns, water infiltration capacity, and plant community composition in semi-arid Mediterranean ecosystems along stress gradients. Ecosystems, 16(3): 452–466.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Ravi S, D'Odorico P, Okin G S, 2007. Hydrologic and aeolian controls on vegetation patterns in arid landscapes. Geophysical Research Letters, 34(24): 1061–1064.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Ravolainen V T, Bråthen K A, Ims R A et al., 2013. Shrub patch configuration at the landscape scale is related to diversity of adjacent herbaceous vegetation. Plant Ecology & Diversity, 6(2): 257–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Schenk H J, Jackson R B, 2005. Mapping the global distribution of deep roots in relation to climate and soil characteristics. Geoderma, 126(1/2): 129–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Schwinning S, Starr B I, Ehleringer J R, 2003. Dominant cold desert plants do not partition warm season precipitation by events size. Oecologia, 136(2): 252–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Segoli M, Ungar E D, Shachak M, 2008. Shrubs enhance resilience of a semi-arid ecosystem by engineering and regrowth. Ecohydrology, 1(4): 330–339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Shackleton C M, Scholes R J, 2011. Above ground woody community attributes, biomass and carbon stocks along a rainfall gradient in the savannas of the central lowveld, South Africa. South African Journal of Botany, 77(1): 184–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Sileshi G W, Arshad M A, Konaté S et al., 2010. Termite-induced heterogeneity in African savanna vegetation: mechanisms and patterns. Journal of Vegetation Science, 21(5): 923–937.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Su P X, Yan Q D, Xie T T et al., 2012. Associated growth of C3 and C4 desert plants helps the C3 species at the cost of the C4 species. Acta Physiologiae Plantarum, 34: 2057–2068.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Su Y Z, Zhao W Z, Su P X et al., 2007. Ecological effects of desertification control and desertified land reclamation in an oasis-desert ecotone in an arid region: A case study in Hexi Corridor, northwest China. Ecological Engineering, 29(2): 117–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Valentin C, D’Herbès J M, Poesen J, 1999. Soil and water components of banded vegetation patterns. Catena, 37(1): 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Vincenot C E, Fabrizio C, Stefano M et al., 2017. Spatial self-organization of vegetation subject to climatic stress - insights from a system synamics: Individual-based hybrid model. Frontiers in Plant Science, 7(636): 1–18.Google Scholar
  50. Wu G L, Wang D, Liu Y et al., 2016. Mosaic-pattern vegetation formation and dynamics driven by the water- wind crisscross erosion. Journal of Hydrology, 538: 355–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Xie L N, Guo H Y, Gabler C A et al., 2015. Changes in Spatial Patterns of Caragana stenophylla along a climatic drought gradient on the Inner Mongolian Plateau. PloS One, 10(3). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0121234.Google Scholar
  52. Yao J, Peters D P C, Havstad K M et al., 2006. Multi-scale factors and long-term responses of Chihuahuan Desert grasses to drought. Landscape Ecology, 21(8): 1217–1231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Zhang C C, Li X Y, Wu H W et al., 2017. Differences in water-use strategies along an aridity gradient between two coexisting desert shrubs (Reaumuria soongorica and Nitraria sphaerocarpa): Isotopic approaches with physiological evidence. Plant and Soil. doi: 10.1007/s11104-017-3332-8.Google Scholar
  54. Zhang P P, Shao M A, Zhang X C, 2017. Spatial pattern of plant species diversity and the influencing factors in a Gobi desert within the Heihe River Basin, Northwest China. Journal of Arid Land, 9(3): 379–393.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Zhang X L, Zhou J H, Cai W T et al., 2017. Diversity characteristics of plant communities in the arid desert of the Heihe Basin under different moisture gradients. Acta Ecological Sinica, 14(7): 4627–4635. (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  56. Zhou Y, Boutton T W, Wu X B et al., 2017. Spatial heterogeneity of subsurface soil texture drives landscape- scale patterns of woody patches in a subtropical savanna. Landscape Ecology, 32(4): 915–929.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Science Press 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wei Li
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 1
  • Xiaoyan Li
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Yongmei Huang
    • 1
    • 3
  • Pei Wang
    • 1
    • 3
  • Cicheng Zhang
    • 3
  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Earth Surface Processes and Resource EcologyBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.School of Land Resources & Urban and Rural PlanningHebei GEO UniversityShijiazhuangChina
  3. 3.School of Natural Resources, Faculty of Geographical ScienceBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina

Personalised recommendations