Review of drought impacts on carbon cycling in grassland ecosystems

  • Tianjie Lei
  • Jie Feng
  • Cuiying Zheng
  • Shuguang Li
  • Yang Wang
  • Zhitao Wu
  • Jingxuan Lu
  • Guangyuan Kan
  • Changliang Shao
  • Jinsheng JiaEmail author
  • Hui ChengEmail author
Review Article


Grasslands play a key role in both carbon and water cycles. In semi-arid and arid grassland areas, the frequency and intensity of droughts are increasing. However, the influence of a drought on grassland carbon cycling is still unclear. In this paper, the relationship between drought and grassland carbon cycling is described from the perspective of drought intensity, frequency, duration, and timing. Based on a large amount of literature, we determined that drought is one of the most prominent threats to grassland carbon cycling, although the impacts of different drought conditions are uncertain. The effects of a drought on grassland carbon cycling are more or less altered by drought-induced disturbances, whether individually or in combination. Additionally, a new conceptual model is proposed to better explain the mechanism of droughts on grassland carbon cycling. At present, evaluations of the effects of droughts on grassland carbon cycling are mainly qualitative. A data fusion model is indispensable for evaluating the fate of carbon cycling in a sustainable grassland system facing global change. In the future, multi-source data and models, based on the development of single and multiple disturbance experiments at the ecosystem level, can be utilized to systematically evaluate drought impacts on grassland carbon cycling at different timescales. Furthermore, more advanced models should be developed to address extreme drought events and their consequences on energy, water, and carbon cycling.


drought carbon cycling grasslands conceptual model interactive mechanisms data fusion 


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This research was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 41601569 and 51779269), National Key R&D Program of China (Nos. 2017YFC1502404 and 2017YFB0503005), and IWHR Research & Development Support Program (No. JZ0145B-612016). Thanks to Barbara Ryan for the language polishing and modification of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Higher Education Press and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tianjie Lei
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jie Feng
    • 1
    • 2
  • Cuiying Zheng
    • 1
    • 2
  • Shuguang Li
    • 1
    • 2
  • Yang Wang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Zhitao Wu
    • 3
  • Jingxuan Lu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Guangyuan Kan
    • 1
    • 2
  • Changliang Shao
    • 4
    • 5
  • Jinsheng Jia
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Hui Cheng
    • 1
    • 2
    • 6
    Email author
  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Simulation and Regulation of Water Cycle in River BasinBeijingChina
  2. 2.China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research (IWHR)BeijingChina
  3. 3.Institute of Loess PlateauShanxi UniversityTaiyuanChina
  4. 4.National Hulunber Grassland Ecosystem Observation and Research Station & Institute of Agricultural Resources and Regional PlanningChinese Academy of Agricultural SciencesBeijingChina
  5. 5.Department of Geography/CGCEOMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  6. 6.State Key Laboratory of Hydrology-Water Resources and Hydraulic EngineeringHohai UniversityNanjingChina

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