Plant and Soil

, Volume 426, Issue 1–2, pp 287–298 | Cite as

Tibetan sedges sequester more carbon belowground than grasses: a 13C labeling study

  • Xiao Ming Mou
  • Xiao Gang Li
  • Ningning Zhao
  • Ying Wen Yu
  • Yakov Kuzyakov
Regular Article


Background and Aims

The Kobresia meadows widely distributed on the Tibetan Plateau are very tolerant to intensive grazing. The plant communities in these meadows are currently undergoing a shift in dominance from Cyperaceae (sedges) to Gramineae (grasses) species. We investigated the effects of the replacement of sedges by grasses in an alpine meadow on the allocation of photosynthetic carbon (C) in various plant and soil pools.


We selected patches (50 cm × 50 cm) of two vegetation types dominated by sedges (Kobresia capillifolia, K. humilis and Carex spp., accounting for 88% of the total shoot biomass) and grasses (Elymus nutans, Poa crymophila and Leymus secalinus, accounting for 86% of the total shoot biomass), respectively, in an alpine pasture grazed by yaks (Bos grunniens) and sheep (Ovis aries) in the winter season (November–June). Photoassimilate partitioning in various plant and soil pools was compared between sedge- and grass-dominated patches in the peak growth season (August) after labeling of plants in a 13CO2 atmosphere.


The sedge-dominated patches had 85% smaller aboveground biomass but a much larger ratio of root (in the 0–50 cm soil depth) to shoot biomass (23.0 under sedges vs. 9.5 under grasses) than the grass-dominated patches. However, similar 13C amounts were assimilated by sedges (1651 mg C m−2) and grasses (1575 mg C m−2) during 2 h of labeling, showing a greater capacity to assimilate C per unit of aboveground biomass in sedges. Over the period of 32 days after labeling, 13C allocation to roots and soil was consistently greater under sedges than under grasses. By day 32 after labeling, the total 13C amount remaining in roots and soil down to 50 cm depth was greater under sedges (78.5% of the total 13C assimilated) than under grasses (65.7%).


Although similar C amounts were assimilated by two plant functional groups, sedges transferred more C to roots and soil (through rhizodeposition) than the grasses. This reflects the greater root-to-shoot ratio of sedges than grasses. Consequently, the ongoing replacement of sedges by grasses in plant communities will decrease soil C sequestration in the Kobresia meadows of the Tibetan Plateau.


Carbon allocation 13Carbon pulse labeling Plant functional groups Grasses Sedges 



This work was financed by the China Natural Science Foundation Program (41571279 and 41671253) and with the support of the “RUDN University program 5-100”.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Grassland and Agro-ecosystems, School of Life SciencesLanzhou UniversityLanzhouChina
  2. 2.Institute of Physicochemical and Biological Problems in Soil ScienceRussian Academy of SciencesPushchinoRussia
  3. 3.Agro-Technology InstituteRUDN UniversityMoscowRussia

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