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Intraspecific variation drives community-level stoichiometric responses to nitrogen and water enrichment in a temperate steppe

Abstract

Aims

The responses of functional structures in plant communities to global change drivers is predicted to be driven by both species turnover and intraspecific trait variability (ITV). However, the relative importance of those two drivers is not well-known, which retards our ability to predict the functional changes of plant community under global change scenarios. We hypothesized that ITV rather than species turnover would drive the nutritional responses of plant community at the initial stage after nitrogen and water enrichment.

Methods

We measured community weighted means (CWM) and non-weighted means (CM) of foliar N and P concentrations and N:P ratio in a temperate steppe after two years factorial N and water addition. Species composition and nutrition traits of each species were recorded in each plot.

Results

The impacts of N addition on community level nutrition traits were highly dependent on water conditions, as indicated by significant interactive effects between N and water addition. Nitrogen addition significantly increased CWM of foliar N, but only under ambient water condition. Water addition decreased CWM of foliar P and increased that of N:P. Consistent with our hypothesis, communities responded to both N and water addition after two years treatments mainly through ITV.

Conclusions

Our results highlight the importance of ITV in driving short-term responses of community functional composition to the increases of nitrogen and water availability in the temperate steppe. The existence of interactive effects of N and water addition would make it more difficult to predict the impacts of N deposition on plant-mediated biogeochemical cycling under the scenarios of precipitation regime changes than previously assumed.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the staff of the Inner Mongolia Grassland Ecosystem Research Station (IMGERS) for their support. This work was supported by the National Basic Research Program of China (2016YFC0500601 and 2015CB150802), National Natural Science Foundation of China (31770503 and 31470505), 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).

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Correspondence to Xiao-Tao Lü.

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Responsible Editor: Harry Olde Venterink

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Lü, XT., Hu, YY., Zhang, HY. et al. Intraspecific variation drives community-level stoichiometric responses to nitrogen and water enrichment in a temperate steppe. Plant Soil 423, 307–315 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-017-3519-z

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Keywords

  • Ecological stoichiometry
  • Interspecific and intraspecific variation
  • Leaf chemical traits
  • Nitrogen deposition
  • Plant community structure
  • Plant functional traits
  • Precipitation regime