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Resource manipulation effects on net primary production, biomass allocation and rain-use efficiency of two semiarid grassland sites in Inner Mongolia, China


Productivity of semiarid grasslands is affected by soil water and nutrient availability, with water controlling net primary production under dry conditions and soil nutrients constraining biomass production under wet conditions. In order to investigate limitations on plants by the response of root–shoot biomass allocation to water and nitrogen (N) availability, a field experiment, on restoration plots with rainfed, unfertilized control plots, fertilized plots receiving N (25 kg urea-N ha−1) and water (irrigation simulating a wet season), was conducted at two sites with different grazing histories: moderate (MG) and heavy (HG) grazing. Irrigation and N addition had no effect on belowground biomass. Irrigation increased aboveground (ANPP) and belowground net primary production (BNPP) and rain-use efficiency based on ANPP (RUEANPP), whereas N addition on rainfed plots had no effect on any of the measured parameters. N fertilizer application on irrigated plots increased ANPP and RUEANPP and reduced the root fraction (RF: root dry matter/total dry matter), resulting in smaller N effects on total net primary production (NPP) and rain-use efficiency based on NPP. This suggests that BNPP should be included in evaluating ecosystem responses to resource availability from the whole-plant perspective. N effects on all measured parameters were similar on both sites. However, site HG responded to irrigation with higher ANPP and a lower RF when compared to site MG, indicating that species composition had a pronounced effect on carbon allocation pattern due to below- and aboveground niche complementarity.

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This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC, 41071207/30970509), and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, SA 359/30-1) embedded into the joint-research project FG 536, Matter fluxes in grasslands of Inner Mongolia as influenced by stocking rate (MAGIM). We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and suggestions, the IMGERS meteorological station for providing climatic data and the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) for supporting the work of Y.Z. Gao on the manuscript at Hohenheim University, Germany.

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Correspondence to Shan Lin.

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Communicated by Fernando Valladares.

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Gao, Y.Z., Chen, Q., Lin, S. et al. Resource manipulation effects on net primary production, biomass allocation and rain-use efficiency of two semiarid grassland sites in Inner Mongolia, China. Oecologia 165, 855–864 (2011).

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  • Above- (ANPP) and belowground net primary production (BNPP)
  • Land use history
  • Irrigation
  • N fertilizer
  • Restoration