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Journal of Arid Land  2020, Vol. 12 Issue (2): 239-251    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-020-0123-5
Research article     
Community structure and carbon and nitrogen storage of sagebrush desert under grazing exclusion in Northwest China
DONG Yiqiang1,2,3, SUN Zongjiu1,2, AN Shazhou1,2,*(), JIANG Shasha1, WEI Peng1
1 College of Pratacultural and Environmental Science, Xinjiang Agricultural University, Urumqi 830052, China
2 Key Laboratory of Grassland Resources and Ecology of Xinjiang, Urumqi 830052, China
3 Post-doctoral Mobile Station of Xinjiang Agricultural University, Urumqi 830052, China
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Overgrazing is regarded as one of the key factors of vegetation and soil degradation in the arid and semi-arid regions of Northwest China. Grazing exclusion (GE) is one of the most common pathways used to restore degraded grasslands and to improve their ecosystem services. Nevertheless, there are still significant controversies concerning GE's effects on grassland diversity as well as carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) storage. It remains poorly understood in the arid desert regions, whilst being essential for the sustainable use of grassland resources. To assess the effects of GE on community characteristics and C and N storage of desert plant community in the arid desert regions, we investigated the community structure and plant biomass, as well as C and N storage of plants and soil (0-100 cm depth) in short-term GE (three years) plots and adjacent long-term freely grazing (FG) plots in the areas of sagebrush desert in Northwest China, which are important both for spring-autumn seasonal pasture and for ecological conservation. Our findings indicated that GE was beneficial to the average height, coverage and aboveground biomass (including stems, leaves and inflorescences, and litter) of desert plant community, to the species richness and importance values of subshrubs and perennial herbs, and to the biomass C and N storage of aboveground parts (P<0.05). However, GE was not beneficial to the importance values of annual herbs, root/shoot ratio and total N concentration in the 0-5 and 5-10 cm soil layers (P<0.05). Additionally, the plant density, belowground biomass, and soil organic C concentration and C storage in the 0-100 cm soil layer could not be significantly changed by short-term GE (three years). The results suggest that, although GE was not beneficial for C sequestration in the sagebrush desert ecosystem, it is an effective strategy for improving productivity, diversity, and C and N storage of plants. As a result, GE can be used to rehabilitate degraded grasslands in the arid desert regions of Northwest China.

Key wordsgrazing exclusion      desert plant community      biomass      C storage      N storage      fencing      arid desert regions     
Received: 27 April 2018      Published: 10 March 2020
Corresponding Authors: Shazhou AN     E-mail:
About author: *Corresponding author: AN Shazhou (E-mail:
Cite this article:

DONG Yiqiang, SUN Zongjiu, AN Shazhou, JIANG Shasha, WEI Peng. Community structure and carbon and nitrogen storage of sagebrush desert under grazing exclusion in Northwest China. Journal of Arid Land, 2020, 12(2): 239-251.

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Experimental site Plot Dominant species Location Altitude (m) AMT (°C) MAP (mm)
MNS FG Seriphidium transiliense, Petrosimonia sibirica 44°01′N, 86°09′E 1033 8.18 172
GE S. transiliense,
Carex turkestanica
HTB FG S. transiliense,
P. sibirica
43°58′N, 86°32′E 978 6.79 224
GE S. transiliense,
C. turkestanica
Table 1 Summary conditions of the experimental sites
Experimental site Plot Average height
Total coverage
Total density
MNS FG 18.41±1.10b 29.22±2.48b 93.11±43.70a 2.44±0.18a 0.53±0.07b 0.61±0.08a
GE 31.16±3.29a 61.00±4.26a 82.33±25.63a 2.67±0.53a 0.85±0.10a 0.82±0.04a
HTB FG 11.04±1.05b 21.33±1.95b 98.78±33.29a 1.56±0.18b 0.44±0.06a 0.63±0.08a
GE 40.14±3.94a 81.89±21.43a 58.78±13.19a 2.78±1.20a 0.70±0.11a 0.65±0.04a
Table 2 Desert plant community structure characteristics in the FG and GE plots in MNS and HTB
Experimental site Index Plot Subshrubs Perennial herbs Annual herbs
MNS Average height (cm) FG 30.54±2.49b 1.57±1.06b 6.39±1.33a
GE 42.44±3.66a 5.20±1.37a 6.22±2.22a
Coverage (%) FG 23.47±3.07b 0.28±0.19b 4.33±2.23a
GE 51.78±4.43a 8.44±3.31a 0.78±0.01b
Density (plants/m2) FG 26.17±2.41a 2.33±1.98b 63±4.11a
GE 21.78±2.09a 59.67±6.60a 0.89±0.02b
Importance value FG 0.74±0.06a 0.08±0.02b 0.18±0.06a
GE 0.78±0.06a 0.19±0.06a 0.03±0.02b
HTB Average height (cm) FG 20.71±1.53b 0.70±0.47b 3.11±0.75
GE 43.76±2.12a 16.83±8.41a -
Coverage (%) FG 18.00±1.53b 0.33±0.24b 2.78±0.69
GE 79.44±1.94a 2.44±1.12a -
Density (plants/m2) FG 24.33±2.23b 0.44±0.34b 73.44±34.95
GE 44.56±7.08a 14.22±2.24a -
Importance value FG 0.76±0.05b 0.01±0.01b 0.21±0.05
GE 0.91±0.03a 0.09±0.03a -
Table 3 Average plant height, coverage, density and importance values of different function groups in the FG and GE plots in MNS and HTB
Plot Biomass (g/m2) Root/shoot
Stem Leaves and
Litter Aboveground
MNS FG 96.0±12.7b 41.0±5.3b 12.0±3.0b 147.6±17.0b 1497.7±457.2a 13.8±2.1a
GE 150.3±9.4a 70.2±5.7a 29.8±16.1a 247.0±15.8a 1847.7±138.0a 5.8±1.8b
HTB FG 41.7±3.1b 29.7±1.5b 11.6±2.8b 81.8±4.6b 718.2±69.6a 9.6±0.5a
GE 245.4±28.4a 91.1±9.0a 19.7±1.8a 356.2±37.4a 685.6±7.7a 2.2±0.3b
Table 4 Biomass characteristics of desert plant community in the FG and GE plots in MNS and HTB
Fig. 1 Biomass carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) storage of aboveground and belowground parts of desert plant community in the FG and GE plots in MNS (a and b) and HTB (c and d). FG, freely grazing; GE, grazing exclusion; MNS, experiment site in the sagebrush desert region of Manas County; HTB, experiment site in the sagebrush desert region of Hutubi County. Different lowercase letters mean significant difference between FG and GE plots at P<0.05 level.
Fig. 2 Soil organic carbon (SOC) and soil total nitrogen (STN) concentrations in different soil layers in the FG and GE plots in MNS (a and b) and HTB (c and d). * means significant difference among different soil layers at P<0.05 level. Error bar means standard error.
Fig. 3 Soil C/N ratios in different soil layers in the FG and GE plots in MNS (a) and HTB (b). ns means significant difference among different soil layers at P<0.05 level. Error bar means standard error.
Experimental site Soil layer
Soil C storage (g/m2) Soil N storage (g/m2)
MNS 0-5 6641.5±1778.6a 5088.1±1768.3a 804.9±190.7a 548.1±190.7a
5-10 3551.1±948.6a 3281.4±1417.7a 445.4±138.4a 329.4±126.5a
10-20 5810.3±2118.5a 6019.1±3348.5a 542.9±155.3a 590.2±292.5a
20-30 2937.7±904.1a 2275.9±959.0a 268.4±47.7a 269.9±101.0a
30-50 3580.2±1438.1a 5944.5±478.5a 407.7±196.7a 797.2±641.3a
50-70 1600.6±388.9a 1696.1±1122.1a 164.7±99.5a 215.3±125.7a
70-100 814.9±266.0a 329.9±221.4a 161.9±57.2a 67.2±22.6a
0-100 24,936.4±6540.4a 24,635.1±1,3029.2a 2795.8±645.9a 2817.4±1386.1a
HTB 0-5 3501.6±283.3a 3213.9±1465.7a 446.1±101.4a 253.0±105.6a
5-10 1267.8±48.9a 1861.4±593.1a 199.8±28.5a 219.7±118.3a
10-20 2239.0±604.4a 1616.7±310.5a 291.8±34.6a 182.9±17.5b
20-30 1174.3±284.6a 573.3±179.7a 143.0±29.5a 95.3±18.3a
30-50 1378.5±312.0a 886.0±180.3a 241.4±44.0a 152.9±7.1a
50-70 666.8±241.3a 329.2±161.8a 144.4±55.7a 63.4±22.5a
70-100 627.6±330.2a 429.5±242.2a 125.6±43.6a 70.7±20.6a
0-100 10,855.8±1310.3a 8910.1±1336.2a 1592.2±71.4a 1037.9±72.0b
Table 5 Soil C and N storage in different soil layers in the FG and GE plots in MNS and HTB
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