, Volume 133, Issue 3, pp 295–305 | Cite as

Temporal variability of foliar nutrients: responses to nitrogen deposition and prescribed fire in a temperate steppe

  • Xiao-Tao Lü
  • Sasha Reed
  • Shuang-Li Hou
  • Yan-Yu Hu
  • Hai-Wei Wei
  • Fu-Mei Lü
  • Qiang Cui
  • Xing-Guo Han


Plant nutrient concentrations and stoichiometry drive fundamental ecosystem processes, with important implications for primary production, diversity, and ecosystem sustainability. While a range of evidence exists regarding how plant nutrients vary across spatial scales, our understanding of their temporal variation remains less well understood. Nevertheless, we know nutrients regulate plant function across time, and that important temporal controls could strongly interact with environmental change. Here, we report results from a 3-year assessment of inter-annual changes of foliar nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) concentrations and stoichiometry in three dominant grasses in response to N deposition and prescribed fire in a temperate steppe of northern China. Foliar N and P concentrations and their ratios varied greatly among years, with this temporal variation strongly related to inter-annual variation in precipitation. Nitrogen deposition significantly increased foliar N concentrations and N:P ratios in all species, while fire significantly altered foliar N and P concentrations but had no significant impacts on N:P ratios. Generally, N addition enhanced the temporal stability of foliar N and decreased that of foliar P and of N:P ratios. Our results indicate that plant nutrient status and response to environmental change are temporally dynamic and that there are differential effects on the interactions between environmental change drivers and timing for different nutrients. These responses have important implications for consideration of global change effects on plant community structure and function, management strategies, and the modeling of biogeochemical cycles under global change scenarios.


Ecological stoichiometry Ecosystem stability Inter-annual variation N:P ratio Nutrient limitation Primary productivity Semiarid grassland 



We thank the Inner Mongolia Grassland Ecosystem Research Station for logistical support. This work was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (31470505), National Key Research and Development Program (2016YFC0500601 and 2015CB150802), Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDB15010403), Youth Innovation Promotion Association CAS (2014174), and the Key Research Program from CAS (QYZDB-SSW-DQC006 and KFZD-SW-305-002). Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.

Author Contributions

XTL and XGH designed this research, XTL, SLH, YYH, HWW, FML, QC carried out the experiment and collected data, XTL and SCR analyzed and interpreted the data, all authors contributed to drafting the paper.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Authors declared no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Erguna Forest-Steppe Ecotone Research Station, CAS Key Laboratory of Forest Ecology and Management, Institute of Applied EcologyChinese Academy of SciencesShenyangChina
  2. 2.Southwest Biological Science CenterUS Geological SurveyMoabUSA
  3. 3.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  4. 4.State Key Laboratory of Vegetation and Environmental Change, Institute of BotanyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

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