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Journal of Arid Land  2021, Vol. 13 Issue (1): 88-97    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-020-0078-6
Research article     
How precipitation and grazing influence the ecological functions of drought-prone grasslands on the northern slopes of the Tianshan Mountains, China?
HUANG Xiaotao1,2,3,4, LUO Geping3,4,*(), CHEN Chunbo3,4, PENG Jian5,*(), ZHANG Chujie5, ZHOU Huakun1,2,4, YAO Buqing1,2,4, MA Zhen1,2,4, XI Xiaoyan6
1Qinghai Provincial Key Laboratory of Restoration Ecology for Cold Regions, Northwest Institute of Plateau Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xining 810008, China
2Key Laboratory of Adaptation and Evolution of Plateau Biota, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xining 810008, China
3State Key Laboratory of Desert and Oasis Ecology, Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Urumqi 830011, China
4University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
5Xinjiang Grassland Technical Popularization Station, Urumqi 830049, China
6Qinghai Environmental Sciences Research and Design Institute Co. Ltd., Xining 810007, China
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Drought-prone grasslands provide a critical resource for the millions of people who are dependent on livestock for food security. However, this ecosystem is potentially vulnerable to climate change (e.g., precipitation) and human activity (e.g., grazing). Despite this, the influences of precipitation and grazing on ecological functions of drought-prone grasslands in the Tianshan Mountains remain relatively unexplored. Therefore, we conducted a systematic field investigation and a clipping experiment (simulating different intensities of grazing) in a drought-prone grassland on the northern slopes of the Tianshan Mountains in China to examine the influences of precipitation and grazing on aboveground biomass (AGB), soil volumetric water content (SVWC), and precipitation use efficiency (PUE) during the period of 2014-2017. We obtained the meteorological and SVWC data using an HL20 Bowen ratio system and a PR2 soil profile hydrometer, respectively. We found that AGB was clearly affected by both the amount and seasonal pattern of precipitation, and that PUE may be relatively low in years with either low or excessive precipitation. The PUE values were generally higher in the rapid growing season (April-July) than in the entire growing season (April-October). Overall, moderate grazing can promote plant growth under water stress conditions. The SVWC value was higher in the clipped plots than in the unclipped plots in the rapid growing season (April-July), but it was lower in the clipped plots than in the unclipped plots in the slow growing season (August-October). Our findings can enhance the understanding of the ecological effects of precipitation and grazing in drought-prone grasslands and provide data that will support the effective local grassland management.

Key wordsclimate change      human activity      aboveground biomass      precipitation use efficiency      soil volumetric water content      water stress     
Received: 29 April 2019      Published: 10 January 2021
Corresponding Authors:
About author: PENG Jian (E-mail:
*LUO Geping (E-mail:;
Cite this article:

HUANG Xiaotao, LUO Geping, CHEN Chunbo, PENG Jian, ZHANG Chujie, ZHOU Huakun, YAO Buqing, MA Zhen, XI Xiaoyan. How precipitation and grazing influence the ecological functions of drought-prone grasslands on the northern slopes of the Tianshan Mountains, China?. Journal of Arid Land, 2021, 13(1): 88-97.

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Fig. 1 Location of the study site (a) and demostration of the field experiments (b and c)
Fig. 2 Experimental layout

2014 2015 2016 2017
Apr-Jul Apr-Oct Apr-Jul Apr-Oct Apr-Jul Apr-Oct Apr-Jul Apr-Oct
P (mm) 162.0 212.8 221.8 402.8 195.8 206.0 160.0 206.0
AGB (g C/m2) 114.1 132.1 118.4 151.2 216.7 241.0 118.9 119.1
PUE (g C/(m2·mm)) 0.32 0.28 0.24 0.17 0.50 0.53 0.33 0.26
Table 1 Precipitation (P), aboveground biomass (AGB), and precipitation use efficiency (PUE) in the rapid (April to July) and entire (April to October) growing seasons during the period of 2014-2017
Fig. 3 Aboveground biomass (AGB) values in plots with different stubble heights (0, 3, 5, and 8 cm, and unclipped) in the study site during the period of 2014-2017. The error bar represents the fluctuation range of the observed value.
Fig. 4 Soil volumetric water content (SVWC) values in the clipped and unclipped plots at different soil depths (0-10, 10-20, and 20-30 cm) in the study site in the entire growing season during the period of 2014-2017. The error bar represents the fluctuation range of the observed value.
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