Please wait a minute...
Journal of Arid Land  2017, Vol. 9 Issue (6): 823-836    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-017-0021-7
Orginal Article     
Water-use efficiency in response to simulated increasing precipitation in a temperate desert ecosystem, of Xinjiang, China
Gang HUANG1,*(), Yan LI1, Xiaohan MU1, Hongmei ZHAO2, Yanfeng CAO3
1 State Key Lab of Desert and Oasis Ecology, Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Urumqi 830011, China
2 Xinjiang Key Laboratory of Soil and Plant Ecological Processes, College of Grassland and Environmental Sciences, Xinjiang Agricultural University, Urumqi 830052, China
3 Geology Science Department, Shannxi Normal University, Xi’an 710062, China
Download: HTML     PDF(576KB)
Export: BibTeX | EndNote (RIS)      


Water-use efficiency (WUE) is a key plant functional trait that plays a central role in the global cycles of water and carbon. Although increasing precipitation may cause vegetation changes, few studies have explored the linkage between alteration in vegetation and WUE. Here, we analyzed the responses of leaf WUE, ecosystem carbon and water exchanges, ecosystem WUE, and plant community composition changes under normal conditions and also under extra 15% or 30% increases in annual precipitation in a temperate desert ecosystem of Xinjiang, China. We found that leaf WUE and ecosystem WUE showed inconsistent responses to increasing precipitation. Leaf WUE consistently decreased as precipitation increased. By contrast, the responses of the ecosystem WUE to increasing precipitation are different in different precipitation regimes: increasing by 33.9% in the wet year (i.e., the normal precipitation years) and decreasing by 4.1% in the dry year when the precipitation was about 30% less than that in the wet year. We systematically assessed the herbaceous community dynamics, community composition, and vegetation coverage to explain the responses of ecosystem WUE, and found that the between-year discrepancy in ecosystem WUE was consistent with the extent to which plant biomass was stimulated by the increase in precipitation. Although there was no change in the relative significance of ephemerals in the plant community, its greater overall plant biomass drove an increased ecosystem WUE under the conditions of increasing precipitation in 2011. However, the slight increase in plant biomass exerted no significant effect on ecosystem WUE in 2012. Our findings suggest that an alteration in the dominant species in this plant community can induce a shift in the carbon- and water-based economics of desert ecosystems.

Key wordsdesert ecosystem      ecosystem water-use efficiency      gross carbon exchange      increasing precipitation      leaf water-use efficiency      net carbon exchange      Gurbantunggut Desert     
Received: 20 February 2017      Published: 20 December 2017
Corresponding Authors: Gang HUANG     E-mail:
Cite this article:

Gang HUANG, Yan LI, Xiaohan MU, Hongmei ZHAO, Yanfeng CAO. Water-use efficiency in response to simulated increasing precipitation in a temperate desert ecosystem, of Xinjiang, China. Journal of Arid Land, 2017, 9(6): 823-836.

URL:     OR

[1] Austin A T, Yahdjian L, Stark J M, et al.2004. Water pulses and biogeochemical cycles in arid and semiarid ecosystems. Oecologia, 141(2): 221-235.
[2] Bell T W, Menzer O, Troyo-Diéquez E, et al.2012. Carbon dioxide exchange over multiple temporal scales in an arid shrub ecosystem near La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Global Change Biology, 18(8): 2570-2582.
[3] Cohen D.1970. The expected efficiency of water utilization in plants under different competition and selection regimes. Israel Journal of Botany, 19(1): 50-54.
[4] Eamus D, Cleverly J, Boulain N, et al.2013. Carbon and water fluxes in an arid-zone Acacia savanna woodland: an analyses of seasonal patterns and responses to rainfall events. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 182-183: 225-238.
[5] Ehleringer J R, Cooper T A.1988. Correlations between carbon isotope ratio and microhabitat in desert plants. Oecologia, 76(4): 562-566.
[6] Fan L L, Ma J, Wu L F, et al.2012. Response of the herbaceous layer to snow variability at the south margin of the Gurbantonggut Desert of China. Chinese Journal of Plant Ecology, 36(2): 126-135. (in Chinese)
[7] Golluscio R A, Oesterheld M.2007. Water use efficiency of twenty-five co-existing Patagonian species growing under different soil water availability. Oecologia, 154(1): 207-217.
[8] Hastings S J, Oechel W C, Muhlia-Melo A.2005. Diurnal, seasonal and annual variation in the net ecosystem CO2 exchange of a desert shrub community (Sarcocaulescent) in Baja California, Mexico. Global Change Biology, 11(6): 927-939.
[9] Huang G, Li Y, Padilla F M.2015. Ephemeral plants mediate responses of ecosystem carbon exchange to increased precipitation in a temperate desert. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 201: 141-152.
[10] Huang G, Li Y.2015. Phenological transition dictates the seasonal dynamics of ecosystem carbon exchange in a desert steppe. Journal of Vegetation Science, 26(2): 337-347.
[11] Huxman T E, Smith M D, Fay P A, et al.2004. Convergence across biomes to a common rain-use efficiency. Nature, 429(6992): 651-654.
[12] Jones H G. 2014. Plants and Microclimate: A Quantitative Approach to Environmental Plant Physiology (3rd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 407.
[13] Lal R.2004. Carbon sequestration in dryland ecosystems. Environmental Management, 33(4): 528-544.
[14] Law B E, Falge E, Gu L.2002. Environmental controls over carbon dioxide and water vapor exchange of terrestrial vegetation. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 113(1-4): 97-120.
[15] Le Houerou H N.1984. Rain use efficiency: a unifying concept in arid-land ecology. Journal of Arid Environments, 7(3): 213-247.
[16] Li X R.2012. Eco-Hydrology of Biological Soil Crusts in Desert Regions of China. Beijing: Higher Education Press, 9-46. (in Chinese)
[17] Lin G H, Phillips S L, Ehleringer J R.1996. Monosoonal precipitation responses of shrubs in a cold desert community on the Colorado Plateau. Oecologia, 106(1): 8-17.
[18] Linderson M L, Mikkelsen T N, Ibrom A, et al.2012. Up-scaling of water use efficiency from leaf to canopy as based on leaf gas exchange relationships and the modeled in canopy light distribution. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 152: 201-211.
[19] Liu R, Pan L P, Jenerette G D, et al.2012. High efficiency in water use and carbon gain in a wet year for a desert halophyte community. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 162-163: 127-135.
[20] Liu Y X, Li X, Zhang Q, et al.2010. Simulation of regional temperature and precipitation in the past 50 years and the next 30 years over China. Quaternary International, 212(1): 57-63.
[21] Ma J, Zheng X J, Li Y.2012. The response of CO2 flux to rain pulses at a saline desert. Hydrological Processes, 26(26): 4029-4037.
[22] Medlyn B E, De Kauwe M G, Lin Y S, et al.2017. How do leaf and ecosystem measures of water-use efficiency compare? New Phytologist, doi: 10.1111/nph.14626.
[23] Niu S L, Xing X R, Zhang Z, et al.2011. Water-use efficiency in response to climate change: from leaf to ecosystem in a temperate steppe. Global Change Biology, 17(2): 1073-1082.
[24] Ojima D S, Xiao X M, Chuluun T, et al.1998. Asian grassland biogeochemistry: factors affecting past and future dynamics of Asian grasslands. In: Galloway J N, Melillo J M. Asian Change in the Context of Global Climate Change: Impact of Natural and Anthropogenic Changes in Asia on Global Biogeochemical Cycles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 128-144.
[25] Potts D L, Huxman T E, Scott R L, et al.2006. The sensitivity of ecosystem carbon exchange to seasonal precipitation and woody plant encroachment. Oecologia, 150(3): 453-463.
[26] Risch A C, Frank D A.2007. Effects of increased soil water availability on grassland ecosystem carbon dioxide fluxes. Biogeochemistry, 86(1): 91-103.
[27] Robertson T R, Zak J C, Tissue D T.2010. Precipitation magnitude and timing differentially affect species richness and plant density in the sotol grassland of the Chihuahuan Desert. Oecologia, 162(1): 185-197.
[28] Ruppert J C, Holm A, Miehe S, et al.2012. Meta-analysis of ANPP and rain-use efficiency confirms indicative value for degradation and supports non-linear response along precipitation gradients in drylands. Journal of Vegetation Science, 23(6): 1035-1050.
[29] Scanlon T M, Albertson J D.2004. Canopy scale measurements of CO2 and water vapor exchange along a precipitation gradient in southern Africa. Global Change Biology, 10(3): 329-341.
[30] Schimel D S, Parton W J, Kittel T G F, et al.1990. Grassland biogeochemistry: links to atmospheric processes. Climatic Change, 17(1): 13-25.
[31] Su Y G, Li X R, Cheng Y W, et al.2007. Effects of biological soil crusts on emergence of desert vascular plants in North China. Plant Ecology, 191(1): 11-19.
[32] Su Y G, Wu L, Zhou Z B, et al.2013. Carbon flux in deserts depends on soil cover type: a case study in the Gurbantunggute desert, North China. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 58: 332-340.
[33] Thomey M L, Collins S L, Vargas R, et al.2011. Effect of precipitation variability on net primary production and soil respiration in a Chihuahuan Desert grassland. Global Change Biology, 17(4): 1505-1515.
[34] Toft N L, Anderson J E, Nowak R S.1989. Water use efficiency and carbon isotope composition of plants in a cold desert environment. Oecologia, 80(1): 11-18.
[35] Varnamkhasti A S, Milchunas D G, Lauenroth W K, et al.1995. Production and rain use efficiency in short-grass steppe: grazing history, defoliation and water resource. Journal of Vegetation Science, 6(6): 787-796.
[36] Veron S V, Paruelo J M, Sala O E, et al.2002. Environmental controls of primary production in agricultural systems of the Argentine Pampas. Ecosystems, 5(7): 625-635.
[37] Wang R Z, Liu X Q, Xing Q, et al.2005. Photosynthesis, transpiration, and water use efficiency of Leymus dasystachys on the Hunshandake Desert. Photosynthetica, 43(2): 289-291.
[38] Webb W L, Lauenroth W K, Szarek S R, et al.1983. Primary production and abiotic controls in forests, grasslands, and desert ecosystems in the United States. Ecology, 64(1): 134-151.
[39] Wu Y, Zheng X J, Li Y.2016. Photosynthetic response of desert plants to small rainfall events in the Junggar Basin, Northwest China. Photosynthetica, 54(1): 3-11.
[40] Xia J Y, Niu S L, Wan S Q.2009. Response of ecosystem carbon exchange to warming and nitrogen addition during two hydrologically contrasting growing seasons in a temperate steppe. Global Change Biology, 15(6): 1544-1556.
[1] Anlifeire ANNIWAER, SU Yangui, ZHOU Xiaobing, ZHANG Yuanming. Impacts of snow on seed germination are independent of seed traits and plant ecological characteristics in a temperate desert of Central Asia[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2020, 12(5): 775-790.
[2] Hai ZHU, Shunjun HU, Jingsong YANG, KARAMAGE Fidele, Hao LI, Sihua FU. Spatio-temporal variation of soil moisture in a fixed dune at the southern edge of the Gurbantunggut Desert in Xinjiang, China[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2019, 11(5): 685-700.
[3] Lianlian FAN, Junxiang DING, Xuexi MA, Yaoming LI. Ecological biomass allocation strategies in plant species with different life forms in a cold desert, China[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2019, 11(5): 729-739.
[4] Yonggang LI, Xiaobing ZHOU, Yuanming ZHANG. Shrub modulates the stoichiometry of moss and soil in desert ecosystems, China[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2019, 11(4): 579-594.
[5] Shanlin YANG, Xiang SHI, Shaoming WANG, Jiashu LIU, Fanxiang MENG, Wei PANG. Is bi-seasonal germination an optimal choice for an ephemeral plant living in a cold desert?[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2019, 11(2): 280-291.
[6] Fengqin JIA, TIYIP Tashpolat, Nan WU, Changyan TIAN, Yuanming ZHANG. Characteristics of soil seed banks at different geomorphic positions within the longitudinal sand dunes of the Gurbantunggut Desert, China[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2017, 9(3): 355-367.
[7] Jie MA, Ran LIU, Yan LI. Abiotic contribution to total soil CO2 flux across a broad range of land-cover types in a desert region[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2017, 9(1): 13-26.
[8] JiLiang LIU, WenZhi ZHAO, FengRui LI. Shrub presence and shrub species effects on ground beetle assemblages (Carabidae, Curculionidae and Tenebrionidae) in a sandy desert, northwestern China[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2015, 7(1): 110-121.
[9] Sarah SYMANCZIK, Janusz B?ASZKOWSKI, Sally KOEGEL, Thomas BOLLER, Andres WIEMKEN, Mohamed N AL-YAHYA'EI.. Isolation and identification of desert habituated arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi newly reported from the Arabian Peninsula[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2014, 6(4): 488-497.
[10] Tao ZHANG, ChangYan TIAN, Yu SUN, DengSha BAI, Gu FENG. Dynamics of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi associated with desert ephemeral plants in Gurbantunggut Desert[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2012, 4(1): 43-51.
[11] YuanMing ZHANG, Nan WU, BingChang ZHANG, Jing ZHANG. Species composition, distribution patterns and ecological functions of biological soil crusts in the Gurbantunggut Desert[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2010, 2(3): 180-189.
[12] YiBing QIAN, ZhaoNing WU, HaiFeng YANG, Chao JIANG. Spatial heterogeneity for grain size distribution of eolian sand soil on longitudinal dunes in the southern Gurbantunggut Desert[J]. Journal of Arid Land, 2009, 1(1): 26-33.