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Combined effects of snow depth and nitrogen addition on ephemeral growth at the southern edge of the Gurbantunggut Desert, China

Abstract

Water and nitrogen (N) inputs are considered as the two main limiting factors affecting plant growth. Changes in these inputs are expected to alter the structure and composition of the plant community, thereby influencing biodiversity and ecosystem function. Snowfall is a form of precipitation in winter, and snow melting can recharge soil water and result in a flourish of ephemerals during springtime in the Gurbantunggut Desert, China. A bi-factor experiment was designed and deployed during the snow-covering season from 2009 to 2010. The experiment aimed to explore the effects of different snow-covering depths and N addition levels on ephemerals. Findings indicated that deeper snow cover led to the increases in water content in topsoil as well as density and coverage of ephemeral plants in the same N treatment; by contrast, N addition sharply decreased the density of ephemerals in the same snow treatment. Meanwhile, N addition exhibited a different effect on the growth of ephemeral plants: in the 50% snow treatment, N addition limited the growth of ephemeral plants, showing that the height and the aboveground biomass of the ephemeral plants were lower than in those without N addition; while with the increases in snow depth (100% and 150% snow treatments), N addition benefited the growth of the dominant individual plants. Species richness was not significantly affected by snow in the same N treatment. However, N addition significantly decreased the species richness in the same snow-covering depth. The primary productivity of ephemerals in the N addition increased with the increase of snow depth. These variations indicated that the effect of N on the growth of ephemerals was restricted by water supply. With plenty of water (100% and 150% snow treatments), N addition contributed to the growth of ephemeral plants; while with less water (50% snow treatment), N addition restricted the growth of ephemeral plants.

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Fan, L., Li, Y., Tang, L. et al. Combined effects of snow depth and nitrogen addition on ephemeral growth at the southern edge of the Gurbantunggut Desert, China. J. Arid Land 5, 500–510 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40333-013-0185-8

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s40333-013-0185-8

Keywords

  • snow depth
  • soil water content
  • N addition
  • ephemeral plant
  • plant density
  • species richness