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Journal of Arid Land  2022, Vol. 14 Issue (8): 867-876    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-022-0024-x
Research article     
Grazing and heat stress protection of native grass by a sand-fixing shrub in the arid lands of northern China
Keiichi KIMURA1,*(), Akito KONO2, Susumu YAMADA3, Tomoyo F KOYANAGI4, Toshiya OKURO1
1Department of Ecosystem Studies, Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, The University of Tokyo, Tokyo 113-8657, Japan
2Graduate School of Environmental Studies, Nagoya University, Aichi 464-8601, Japan
3Faculty of Agriculture, Tokyo University of Agriculture, Kanagawa 243-0034, Japan
4Field Studies Institute for Environmental Education, Tokyo Gakugei University, Tokyo 184-0015, Japan
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Shrub species are used in restoration projects on dryland for their facilitation effects, which include environmental improvements and protection from herbivore feeding. Facilitation effects on forage grasses are potentially important in improving grazing capacity on rangelands. However, the morphology-dependent performance of benefactor plants in facilitating forage species growth and supplementation under moderate grazing intensity remains unclear. Here, our main purpose was to measure facilitation performance in terms of the survival of a native forage grass, Agropyron cristatum (L.) Gaertn. (Gramineae)., in accordance with the growth conditions of a sand-fixing benefactor shrub, Caragana microphylla Lam., in the Hulun Buir Grassland, northern China. Six study sites with patches of A. cristatum and C. microphylla were established at the foot of fixed sand dunes. At each site, five quadrats were set in places where C. microphylla coverage was 100% and A. cristatum grew among the shrubs (shrub quadrats), and another five were set where A. cristatum grew alone without C. microphylla (grass quadrats). We measured the morphological traits of C. microphylla and A. cristatum in all 60 quadrats, along with the soil water content and soil temperature. The data were compared between the shrub and grass quadrats by generalized linear mixed-effect models to assess the shrub's facilitation effects. We also used such models to elucidate the relationship between the average height of C. microphylla and the morphological traits of A. cristatum in the shrub quadrats. The maximum height, average grazed height, and the number of seed heads of A. cristatum were greater in the shrub quadrats than in the grass quadrats. The soil surface temperature was lower in the shrub quadrats. The maximum height and seed head number of A. cristatum were positively associated with the average height of C. microphylla. These results suggest that the grazing impact and heat stress were smaller in shrub quadrats than in grass quadrats, and that the degree of this protective effect depended on the shrub height. The shrub canopy seemed to reduce the increase in soil temperature and keep the grass vigorous. Livestock likely avoided grazing grasses in the C. microphylla patches because of the shrub's spiny leaves; only the upper parts of the grass stems (including the seed heads) protruding from the shrub canopy were grazed. The sand-fixing shrub thus moderates the grazing impact and soil temperature, and contributes to vegetation restoration and grazing system sustainability.

Key wordsCaragana microphylla      dryland      ecosystem restoration      facilitation      grazing impact      heat stress     
Received: 01 April 2022      Published: 30 August 2022
Corresponding Authors: Keiichi KIMURA     E-mail:
Cite this article:

Keiichi KIMURA, Akito KONO, Susumu YAMADA, Tomoyo F KOYANAGI, Toshiya OKURO. Grazing and heat stress protection of native grass by a sand-fixing shrub in the arid lands of northern China. Journal of Arid Land, 2022, 14(8): 867-876.

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Fig. 1 Landscape of the experimental sites A-F
Fig. 2 Quadrat layout of this study
Response variable Link function Error distribution
Maximum grass height Identity link Gaussian
Average grazed grass height Log link Gamma
Number of seed heads Log link Poisson
Grass coverage Log link Gamma
Soil water content Log link Gamma
Soil temperature Identity link Gaussian
Table 1 Selected link functions and error distributions for GLMMs (generalized linear mixed-effect models)
Fig. 3 Differences in grass traits and micro-environments between shrub and grass quadrats. (a), maximum grass height; (b), average grazed height; (c), seed head number; (d), grass coverage; (e), soil water content; (f), soil temperature. The box represents the 25th and 75th percentiles, and the whiskers are the upper and lower adjacent values. Circles are outliers.
Variable Estimated slope Standard error
Maximum grass height -22.29 3.01
Average grazed grass height -1.20 0.19
Number of seed heads -1.41 0.12
Grass coverage 0.14 0.16
Soil water content 0.11 0.03
Soil temperature 1.81 0.49
Table 2 Model parameter estimates explaining the differences in grass traits and micro-environments between shrub and grass quadrats
Variable Estimated slope Standard error
Maximum grass height 0.360 0.120
Intercept 32.749 6.869
Number of seed heads 0.013 0.004
Intercept 1.700 0.289
Table 3 Model parameter estimates explaining the relationships between shrub height and grass traits
Fig. 4 Relationships of the average height of Caragana microphylla with (a) the maximum height and (b) the number of seed heads of Agropyron cristatum in the shrub quadrats. The best model of the relationship between the shrub height and the number of seed heads included the random effect of the survey sites.
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