Precipitation amount and frequency affect seedling emergence and growth of Reaumuria soongarica in northwestern China

Abstract

Climate change is shifting the amount and frequency of precipitation in many regions, which is expected to affect seedling recruitment across ecosystems. However, the combined effects of precipitation amount and frequency on seedling recruitment remain largely unknown. An understanding of the effects of precipitation amount and frequency and their interaction on seedling emergence and growth of typical desert plants is vital for managing populations of desert plants. We conducted two experiments to study the effects of variation in precipitation on Reaumuria soongarica (Pall.) Maxim. First, greenhouse experiments were conducted to examine the effects of three precipitation amount treatments (ambient, +30%, and –30%) and two precipitation frequency treatments (ambient and –50%) on seedling emergence. Second, the morphological responses of R. soongarica to changes in precipitation amount and frequency were tested in a controlled field experiment. Stage-specific changes in growth were monitored by sampling in different growth seasons. Our results showed that precipitation amount significantly affected germination, seedling emergence, and growth of R. soongarica, and there was a larger effect with decreased precipitation frequency compared with ambient. Germination and seedling emergence increased as precipitation increased under the same frequency of precipitation. The highest emergence percentage was obtained with a 30% increase in precipitation amount and a 50% reduction in precipitation frequency. Compared with ambient precipitation, a 30% increase in precipitation amount increased above- and below-ground biomass accumulation of R. soongarica during the growth season. A decrease of 30% in precipitation amount also resulted in an increase in below-ground biomass and root/shoot ratio in the early stages of the growth season, however, above- and below-ground biomass showed the opposite results at the end of the growth season, with larger effects on above-ground than below-ground biomass under decreased precipitation frequency. When precipitation frequency decreased by 50%, values of all growth traits increased for a given amount of precipitation. We concluded that precipitation frequency may be as important as precipitation amount to seedling emergence and growth of R. soongarica, and that understanding the effects of precipitation variability on seedling recruitment requires the integration of both precipitation amount and frequency. In particular, the combination of a 30% increase in precipitation amount and 50% reduction in precipitation frequency increased the emergence and growth of seedlings, suggesting that alteration of amount and frequency of precipitation caused by climate change may have significant effects on seedling recruitment of R. soongarica.

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Acknowledgements

This work was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31560135, 41361100), and the Gansu Science and Technology Support Program (1604FKCA088). The authors are very grateful to the anonymous reviewers and editors for their critical review and comments which helped to improve and clarify the manuscript. We thank Dr. John Hugh SNYDER for language assistance.

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Correspondence to Lishan Shan.

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Shan, L., Zhao, W., Li, Y. et al. Precipitation amount and frequency affect seedling emergence and growth of Reaumuria soongarica in northwestern China. J. Arid Land 10, 574–587 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40333-018-0013-2

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Keywords

  • precipitation patterns
  • seedling emergence
  • biomass
  • root/shoot ratio
  • seedling recruitment