Ecological Research

, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 515–524 | Cite as

Response of plant functional traits to grazing for three dominant species in alpine steppe habitat of the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau, China

  • Jianxun Wang
  • Mengying Zhong
  • Ruixin Wu
  • QuanMin Dong
  • Kun Wang
  • Xinqing Shao
Original Article


Above-ground biomass (AGB) is an important indicator of grassland ecosystem performance. Easily measured plant functional traits (PFTs) may provide useful predictors of the response of plants to grazing. Understanding the response of PFTs to grazing and the relationship between PFTs and AGB is very important for effectively predicting the response of ecosystems to grazing and rangeland management. A grazing experiment was conducted in Gangcha County, Qinghai Province, in the northeastern part of the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau in 2012 and 2013. We investigated the response of PFTs in three dominant species (Elymus nutans, Kobresia humilis, and Stipa purpurea) to grazing, using six stocking rates. Plant height (PH), plant weight, leaf area, and leaf dry biomass of these three dominant species had significantly negative relationships with stocking rate. Leaf thickness (LT) of these three species usually showed a unimodal response to grazing. Specific leaf area generally showed a quadratic relationship with grazing intensity. No consistent effects of grazing were observed on nitrogen content per unit mass (N mass) and nitrogen content per unit area (N area). PH, leaf area, and leaf dry mass (LDM) were positively associated with AGB, but LT, N mass, and N area had no statistically significant association with AGB. We thus conclude that PH, leaf area, and LDM best predict the effects of grazing on AGB. Finally, 2.87 sheep/ha is recommended as the optimal stocking rate in this region to maintain the health of this grassland ecosystem and to allow for sustainable development.


Above-ground biomass Alpine steppe Dominant species Plant functional traits Stocking rate 



The National Science-Technology Support Plan Projects of China (Grant No. 2012BAC01B02), Special Scientific Research Fund of Agricultural Public Welfare Profession of China (Grant No. 201203006), Chinese Universities Scientific Fund (2013QT033), and State Key Laboratory of Grassland Agro-ecosystems financially supported this research.


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Copyright information

© The Ecological Society of Japan 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jianxun Wang
    • 1
  • Mengying Zhong
    • 1
  • Ruixin Wu
    • 2
  • QuanMin Dong
    • 3
  • Kun Wang
    • 1
  • Xinqing Shao
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Grassland ScienceChina Agricultural UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.Pratacultural College of Gansu Agricultural UniversityLanzhouChina
  3. 3.Qinghai Academy of Animal and Veterinary SciencesKey Laboratory of Alpine Grassland Ecosystem in the Three River Head Waters Region Jointly Funded by Qinghai Province and Ministry of EducationXiningChina

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