Annals of Forest Science

, 76:92 | Cite as

Precipitation mediates the temporal dynamics of net primary productivity and precipitation use efficiency in China’s northern and southern forests

  • Jian Sun
  • Tiancai ZhouEmail author
  • Wenpeng Du
  • Yanqiang Wei
Research Paper


Key message

Precipitation mediates the dynamic of net primary productivity and precipitation use efficiency across the North-South Transect forests of China, which may result from an increase of productivity in warm temperate deciduous broad-leaved forests or a decrease of precipitation use efficiency in temperate coniferous broad-leaved mixed forests.


Precipitation use efficiency (PUE), the ratio of net primary productivity (NPP) to annual precipitation, is one of the key factors that can clarify the response of forest ecosystem carbon and water cycles to ongoing climate change.


To investigate large-scale patterns of NPP and PUE, and to determine how NPP and PUE would respond to climate and soil variables across the North-South Transect forests (TNSTF) of China.


We revealed the spatial pattern dynamics of NPP and PUE in the TNSTF from 2000 to 2010 employing MOD17 NPP data and further explored the responses of NPP and PUE to environment factors across the TNSTF. Additionally, the temporal dynamics of NPP and PUE in different forest types and their dependencies on climate variation were investigated.


The results indicated that NPP increased from 2000 to 2010 in most regions across the TNSTF. The spatial distribution pattern of NPP was mainly correlated with climate factors in the TNSTF rather than soil properties. Spatially, an increased trend of PUE (2000–2010) was found in the south and decreased PUE was revealed in the north of the TNSTF. In addition, the spatial distribution of PUE in the TNSTF was associated with both climate and soil factors. For different forests, only the NPP in warm temperate deciduous broad-leaved forests significantly increased (2000–2010, R2 = 0.33, P < 0.05) due to the increase in precipitation (R2 = 0.82, P < 0.0005). Moreover, only the PUE in temperate coniferous broad-leaved mixed forests presented a significantly decreasing trend (2000–2010, R2 = 0.38, P < 0.05), which was significantly negatively correlated with precipitation (R2 = 0.80, P < 0.0005).


Our findings demonstrated that climate governed the spatial distribution of NPP; in addition to the climate, soil properties also played an important role in shaping the spatial distribution of PUE. Our findings highlight that the dynamics of precipitation rather than those of temperature mediated the variations in NPP and PUE in forests across the TNSTF.


Precipitation use efficiency Net primary production Climate Forest ecosystem The north-south transect China 


Funding information

This research was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant no. 41871040, 41501057 and 41661144045), and West Light Foundation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Acquaye DK (1963) Some significance of soil organic phosphorus mineralization in the phosphorus nutrition of cocoa in Ghana. Plant Soil 19:65–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bai Y, Wu J, Xing Q, Pan Q, Huang J, Yang D, Han X (2008) Primary production and rain use efficiency across a precipitation gradient on the Mongolia plateau. Ecology 89:2140–2153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brümmer C, Black TA, Jassal RS, Grant NJ, Spittlehouse DL, Chen B, Nesic Z, Amiro BD, Arain MA, Barr AG (2012) How climate and vegetation type influence evapotranspiration and water use efficiency in Canadian forest, peatland and grassland ecosystems. Agric For Meteorol 153:14–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cao MK, Tao B, Ke-Rang LI, Shao XM, Stephen D (2003) Interannual variation in terrestrial ecosystem carbon fluxes in China from 1981 to 1998. Acta Bot Sin 45:552–560Google Scholar
  5. Chiu CY, Chen TH, Imberger K, Tian G (2006) Particle size fractionation of fungal and bacterial biomass in subalpine grassland and forest soils. Geoderma 130:265–271CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cleveland CC, Townsend AR, Taylor P, Alvarez-Clare S, Bustamante MMC, Chuyong G, Dobrowski SZ, Grierson P, Harms KE, Houlton BZ (2011) Relationships among net primary productivity, nutrients and climate in tropical rain forest: a pan-tropical analysis. Ecol Lett 14:939–947CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cramer W, Bondeau A, Woodward FI, Prentice IC, Betts RA, Brovkin V, Cox PM, Fisher VA, Foley JA, Friend ADJ (2001) Global response of terrestrial ecosystem structure and function to CO2 and climate change: results from six dynamic global vegetation models. Glob Chang Biol 7:357–373CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Ehleringer JR, Cooper TA (1988) Correlations between carbon isotope ratio and microhabitat in desert plants. Oecologia 76:562–566PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Fang S (1992) The eco-geographical distribution of forest insects in China. J Forestry Res 3(2):13–22Google Scholar
  10. Fang J, Piao S, Field CB, Pan Y, Guo Q, Zhou L, Peng C, Tao S (2003) Increasing net primary production in China from 1982 to 1999. Front Ecol Environ 1:293–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fang O, Wang Y, Shao X (2014) Advances in study of reconstruction of regional forest net primary productivity based on tree rings. Prog Geogr 33:1039–1046Google Scholar
  12. Fischer RA, Turner NC (1978) Plant productivity in the arid and semiarid zones. Annu Rev Plant Biol 29:277–317CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gao Q, Zhang X (1997) A simulation study of responses of the Northeast China transect to elevated CO2 and climate change. Ecol Appl 7:470–483Google Scholar
  14. Guo F, Yost RS (1998) Partitioning soil phosphorus into three discrete pools of differing availability1. Soil Sci 163:822–833CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Houghton RA (2007) Balancing the global carbon budget. Annu Rev Earth Planet Sci 35:313–347CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Huang F, Xu S (2016) Spatio-temporal variations of rain-use efficiency in the west of Songliao plain, China. Sustainability 8:308CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Huang M, Piao S, Janssens IA, Zhu Z, Wang T, Wu D, Ciais P, Myneni RB, Peaucelle M, Peng S (2017) Velocity of change in vegetation productivity over northern high latitudes. Nat Ecol Evol 1(11):1649–1654PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Huxman TE, Smith MD, Fay PA, Knapp AK, Rebecca Shaw M, Loik ME, Smith SD, Tissue DT, Zak JC, Weltzin JF (2004) Convergence across biomes to a common rain-use efficiency. Nature 429:651–654CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Jennings KA, Guerrieri R, Vadeboncoeur MA, Asbjornsen H (2016) Response of Quercus velutina growth and water use efficiency to climate variability and nitrogen fertilization in a temperate deciduous forest in the northeastern USA. Tree Physiol 36:428–443PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Jobbágy EG, Sala OE (1993) Controls of grass and shrub aboveground production in the Patagonian steppe. Kluwer Academic Publishers 541–549 ppGoogle Scholar
  21. Kato T, Kimura R, Kamichika M (2004) Estimation of evapotranspiration, transpiration ratio and water-use efficiency from a sparse canopy using a compartment model. Agric Water Manag 65:173–191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kerr J, Packer L (1998) The impact of climate change on mammal diversity in Canada. Environ Monit Assess 49:263–270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kwak JH, Lim SS, Lee KS, Viet HD, Matsushima M, Lee KH, Jung K, Kim HY, Lee SM, Chang SX (2016) Temperature and air pollution affected tree ring δ 13 C and water-use efficiency of pine and oak trees under rising CO 2 in a humid temperate forest. Chem Geol 420:127–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Le HH, Bingham RL, Skerbek W (1988) Relationship between the variability of primary production and the variability of annual precipitation in world arid lands. J Arid Environ 15:1–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lehouerou HN (1984) Rain-use efficiency: a unifying concept in arid-land ecology. J Arid Environ 7:213–247Google Scholar
  26. Li Y, Liao S, Chi G, Liao Q (2004) NPP distribution related to the terrains along the north-south transect of eastern China. Sci Bull 49:617–624CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Li H, Liu G, Fu B (2013) Spatial variations of rain-use efficiency along a climate gradient on the Tibetan plateau: a satellite-based analysis. Int J Remote Sens 34:7487–7503CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Li H, Wei X, Zhou H (2015) Rain-use efficiency and NDVI-based assessment of karst ecosystem degradation or recovery: a case study in Guangxi, China. Environ Earth Sci 74:1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lieth H, Whittaker RH (1975) Primary productivity of the biosphere. Springer-VerlagGoogle Scholar
  30. Limousin JM, Yepez EA, Mcdowell NG, Pockman WT (2015) Convergence in resource use efficiency across trees with differing hydraulic strategies in response to ecosystem precipitation manipulation. Funct Ecol 29:1125–1136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ling LU, Xin LI, Huang CL, Veroustraete F (2007) Analysis of the Spatio-temporal characteristics of water use efficiency of vegetation in West China. J Glaciol Geocryol 29:777–784Google Scholar
  32. Mao D, Wang Z, Wu C, Song K, Ren C (2014) Examining forest net primary productivity dynamics and driving forces in northeastern China during 1982–2010. Chin Geogr Sci 24:631–646CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Maseyk K, Hemming D, Angert A, Leavitt SW, Dan Y (2011) Increase in water-use efficiency and underlying processes in pine forests across a precipitation gradient in the dry Mediterranean region over the past 30 years. Oecologia 167:573–585PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Monteith JL (1972) Solar radiation and productivity in tropical ecosystems. J Appl Ecol 9:747–766CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Morales P, Sykes MT, Prentice IC, Smith P, Smith B, Bugmann H, Zierl B, Friedlingstein P, Viovy N, Sabate S (2010) Comparing and evaluating process-based ecosystem model predictions of carbon and water fluxes in major European forest biomes. Glob Chang Biol 11:2211–2233CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Morin X, Fahse L, Jactel H, Schererlorenzen M, Garcíavaldés R, Bugmann H (2018) Long-term response of forest productivity to climate change is mostly driven by change in tree species composition. Sci Rep 8:5627PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mu SJ, Zhou KX, Qi Y, Chen YZ, Fang Y, Zhu C (2014) Spatio-temporal patterns of precipitation-use efficiency of vegetation and their controlling factors in Inner Mongolia. Chin J Plant Ecol 38(1):1–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Nock CA, Baker PJ, Wanek W, Leis A, Grabner M, Bunyavejchewin S, Hietz P (2011) Long-term increases in intrinsic water-use efficiency do not lead to increased stem growth in a tropical monsoon forest in western Thailand. Glob Chang Biol 17:1049–1063CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Ouyang S, Wang X, Wu Y, Sun OJ (2014) Contrasting responses of net primary productivity to inter-annual variability and changes of climate among three forest types in northern China. J Plant Ecol 7:309–320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Pan Y, Birdsey R, Hom J, Mccullough K (2009) Separating effects of changes in atmospheric composition, climate and land-use on carbon sequestration of U.S. mid-Atlantic temperate forests. For Ecol Manag 259:151–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Papanikolaou N, Britton AJ, Helliwell RC, Johnson D (2010) Nitrogen deposition, vegetation burning and climate warming act independently on microbial community structure and enzyme activity associated with decomposing litter in low-alpine heath. Glob Chang Biol 16:3120–3132Google Scholar
  42. Paruelo JM, Lauenroth WK, Burke IC, Sala OE (1999) Grassland precipitation-use efficiency varies across a resource gradient. Ecosystems 2:64–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Piao S, Ciais P, Lomas M, Beer C, Liu H, Fang J, Friedlingstein P, Huang Y, Muraoka H, Son Y (2011) Contribution of climate change and rising CO2 to terrestrial carbon balance in East Asia: a multi-model analysis. Glob Planet Chang 75:133–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Qu CM, Han X-G, Su B, Huang J, Jiang G (2001) The characteristics of foliar δ13C values of plants wateruse efficiency indicated by δ13C values in two fragmentedrainforests in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan. Acta Bot Sin 43:186–192Google Scholar
  45. Ren W, Tian H, Tao B, Chappelka A, Sun G, Lu C, Liu M, Chen G, Xu X (2011) Impacts of tropospheric ozone and climate change on net primary productivity and net carbon exchange of China's forest ecosystems. Glob Ecol Biogeogr 20:391–406CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Ross DJ, Tate KR, Feltham CW (1996) Microbial biomass, and C and N mineralization, in litter and of adjacent montane ecosystems in a southern beech (Nothofagus) forest and a tussock grassland. Soil Biol Biochem 28:1613–1620CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Sala OE, Parton WJ, Joyce LA, Lauenroth WK (1988) Primary production of the central grassland region of the United States. Ecology 69:40–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sitch S, Huntingford C, Gedney N, Levy PE, Lomas M, Piao SL, Betts R, Ciais P, Cox P, Friedlingstein P (2008) Evaluation of the terrestrial carbon cycle, future plant geography and climate-carbon cycle feedbacks using five dynamic global vegetation models (DGVMs). Glob Chang Biol 14:2015–2039CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Steffen W, Noble I, Canadell J, Apps M, Schulze ED, Jarvis PG (1998) The terrestrial carbon cycle: implications for the Kyoto protocol. Science 280:1393CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Sun J, Du W (2017) Effects of precipitation and temperature on net primary productivity and precipitation use efficiency across China’s grasslands. Gisci Remote Sens 5:1–17Google Scholar
  51. Sun J, Cheng GW, Li WP (2013) Meta-analysis of relationships between environmental factors and aboveground biomass in the alpine grassland on the Tibetan Plateau. Biogeosciences 10:1707–1715CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Wang L (2010) The vegetation NPP dynamic along the north south transect of East China (NSTEC) based on IBIS simulation. Institute, China Forest Science Research (in Chinese) Google Scholar
  53. Wang XP, Zhang L, Fang JY (2004) Geographical differences in alpine timberline and its climatic interpretation in China. Acta Geograph Sin 59:871–879Google Scholar
  54. Wang P, Sun R, Hu J, Zhu Q, Zhou Y, Li L, Chen JM (2007) Measurements and simulation of forest leaf area index and net primary productivity in northern China. J Environ Manag 85:607–615CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wang S, Zhou L, Chen J, Ju W, Feng X, Wu W (2011) Relationships between net primary productivity and stand age for several forest types and their influence on China's carbon balance. J Environ Manag 92:1651–1662CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Williams JE (2000) The biodiversity crisis and adaptation to climate change: a case study from Australia's forests. Environ Monit Assess 61:65–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Xian JR, Chen GP, Liu YZ, Xu XX, Yang ZB, Yang WQ (2017) Positive adaptation of Salix eriostachya to warming in the treeline ecotone, east Tibetan Plateau. J Mt Sci 14:346–355CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Xie J, Chen J, Sun G, Zha T, Yang B, Chu H, Liu J, Wan S, Zhou C, Ma H (2016) Ten-year variability in ecosystem water use efficiency in an oak-dominated temperate forest under a warming climate. Agric For Meteorol 218–219:209–217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Yang Y, Fang J, Fay PA, Bell JE, Ji C (2010) Rain use efficiency across a precipitation gradient on the Tibetan Plateau. Geophys Res Lett 37:L15702. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Ye H, Wang JB, Huang M, Qi SH (2002) Spatial pattern of vegetation precipitation use efficiency and its response to precipitation and temperature on the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau of China. Chinese J Plant Ecol 36(12):1237–1247CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Yin H, Zhengguo LI, Wang Y, Cai F (2011) Assessment of desertification using time series analysis of hyper-temporal vegetation Indicator in Inner Mongolia. Acta Geograph Sin 66:653–661Google Scholar
  62. Yongfei B, Jianguo W, Qi X, Qingmin P, Jianhui H, Dianling Y, Xingguo H (2008) Primary production and rain use efficiency across a precipitation gradient on the Mongolia plateau. Ecology 89:2140–2153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Yu G, Song X, Wang Q, Liu Y, Guan D, Yan J, Sun X, Zhang L, Wen X (2008) Water-use efficiency of forest ecosystems in eastern China and its relations to climatic variables. New Phytol 177:927–937PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Zhu WQ, Pan YZ, Zhang JS (2007) Estimation of net primary productivity of Chinese terrestrial vegetation based on remote sensing. J Plant Ecol 31:413–424CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© INRA and Springer-Verlag France SAS, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jian Sun
    • 1
    • 2
  • Tiancai Zhou
    • 1
    • 3
    • 4
    Email author
  • Wenpeng Du
    • 1
    • 3
  • Yanqiang Wei
    • 5
  1. 1.Synthesis Research Centre of Chinese Ecosystem Research Network, Key Laboratory of Ecosystem Network Observation and Modelling, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources ResearchChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.State Key Laboratory of Urban and Regional Ecology, Research Center for Eco–environmental SciencesChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.College of Resources and EnvironmentUniversity of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  4. 4.Lhasa Plateau Ecosystem Research Station, Key Laboratory of Ecosystem Network Observation and Modeling, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources ResearchChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  5. 5.Key Laboratory of Remote Sensing of Gansu Province, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and ResourcesChinese Academy of SciencesLanzhouPeople’s Republic of China

Personalised recommendations