Review of drought impacts on carbon cycling in grassland ecosystems


Grasslands play a key role in both carbon and water cycles. In semi-arid and arid grassland areas, the frequency and intensity of droughts are increasing. However, the influence of a drought on grassland carbon cycling is still unclear. In this paper, the relationship between drought and grassland carbon cycling is described from the perspective of drought intensity, frequency, duration, and timing. Based on a large amount of literature, we determined that drought is one of the most prominent threats to grassland carbon cycling, although the impacts of different drought conditions are uncertain. The effects of a drought on grassland carbon cycling are more or less altered by drought-induced disturbances, whether individually or in combination. Additionally, a new conceptual model is proposed to better explain the mechanism of droughts on grassland carbon cycling. At present, evaluations of the effects of droughts on grassland carbon cycling are mainly qualitative. A data fusion model is indispensable for evaluating the fate of carbon cycling in a sustainable grassland system facing global change. In the future, multi-source data and models, based on the development of single and multiple disturbance experiments at the ecosystem level, can be utilized to systematically evaluate drought impacts on grassland carbon cycling at different timescales. Furthermore, more advanced models should be developed to address extreme drought events and their consequences on energy, water, and carbon cycling.

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This research was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 41601569 and 51779269), National Key R&D Program of China (Nos. 2017YFC1502404 and 2017YFB0503005), and IWHR Research & Development Support Program (No. JZ0145B-612016). Thanks to Barbara Ryan for the language polishing and modification of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jinsheng Jia or Hui Cheng.

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Author biographies: Tianjie Lei is an associate professor who received his doctorate degree from Beijing Normal University in 2015. With his major study direction in emergency monitoring and impact assessment of wide range extreme drought, Dr. Lei is presiding over more than 5 projects of the National Key R&D Program of China, and the National Natural Science Foundation of China. In the past five years, he has published more than 30 papers, among which 20 are the first or correspondence author. He obtained a grade two prize from the Da Yu Water Science and Technology Progress Award in 2018. He currently serves as a peer reviewer for journals such as the International Journal of Remote Sensing, Water, and Science of the Total Environment.

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Lei, T., Feng, J., Zheng, C. et al. Review of drought impacts on carbon cycling in grassland ecosystems. Front. Earth Sci. (2020).

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  • drought
  • carbon cycling
  • grasslands
  • conceptual model
  • interactive mechanisms
  • data fusion