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Journal of Arid Land  2022, Vol. 14 Issue (9): 1038-1054    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-022-0031-y
Research article     
Water utilization of typical plant communities in desert steppe, China
CHEN Juan1,2,3, WANG Xing2,3,4, SONG Naiping1,2,3,4,*(), WANG Qixue2,3,4, WU Xudong5
1School of Agriculture, Ningxia University, Yinchuan 750021, China
2Breeding Base for State Key Laboratory of Land Degradation and Ecological Restoration in northwestern China, Yinchuan 750021, China
3Key Laboratory of Restoration and Reconstruction of Degraded Ecosystems in northwestern China of Ministry of Education, Yinchuan 750021, China
4School of Ecology and Environment, Ningxia University, Yinchuan 750021, China
5Institute of Desertification Control, Ningxia Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences, Yinchuan 750002, China
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Water is a limiting factor in the restoration and construction of desert steppe. Exploring plant water sources is necessary to understand soil-plant interactions and species coexistence; however, water sources of major plant communities within the desert steppe of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, China remain poorly understood. In this study, we analyzed the water uptake of plants in four typical communities: Agropyron mongolicum Keng.; Sophora alopecuroids Linn.; Stipa breviflora Griseb., and Achnatherum splendens (Trin.) Nevski communities. Stable isotopes δD and δ18O in the xylem of plant and soil water at different soil depths were analyzed. An IsoSource model was used to determine the soil depths from which plants obtained water. Results showed that A. mongolicum community obtained water predominantly from 0-20 and 40-80 cm depth, S. alopecuroids community from 0-20 cm depth, S. breviflora community from 0-40 cm depth, and A. splendens community from 0-20 and 80-140 cm depths. S. alopecuroides had a wider range of soil depths for water extraction, i.e., utilizing different water sources depending on habitat, and the plasticity of its water uptake pattern determined its role in different communities. Water source of plants relayed heavily on the distribution of their roots. Competition for soil water exists between different plant life forms in the sierozem habitat (A. mongolicum, S. alopecuroids, and S. breviflora communities), and in the sandy soil habitat (A. splendens community). The use of soil water by A. splendens community is more spatially differentiated, and shrubs and herbs can coexist stably. Under the pattern of extended drought period in the future, sierozem habitat may be more favorable for the formation of a dominant monoculture community type of perennial fibrous plants. In aeolian sandy soil habitat, A. splendens had a strong competitive advantage, and the growth of shallow-rooted plants was easily suppressed.

Key wordsstable isotope      water source      IsoSource model      soil water      desert steppe     
Received: 11 May 2022      Published: 30 September 2022
Corresponding Authors: SONG Naiping     E-mail:
Cite this article:

CHEN Juan, WANG Xing, SONG Naiping, WANG Qixue, WU Xudong. Water utilization of typical plant communities in desert steppe, China. Journal of Arid Land, 2022, 14(9): 1038-1054.

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Fig. 1 δD value of soil depth (0-140 cm) and xylem water (vertical dashed line) in different plant communities. Bars represent standard errors. (a), A. mongolicum community; (b), S. alopecuroids community; (c), S. breviflora community; (d), A. splendens community.
Fig. 2 δ18O value of soil depth (0-140 cm) and xylem water (vertical dashed line) in different plant communities. Bars represent standard errors. (a), A. mongolicum community; (b), S. alopecuroids community; (c), S. breviflora community; (d), A. splendens community.
Community type Life form δD (‰) δ18O (‰)
A. mongolicum Herbaceous perennial -85.05±2.01Aa -8.74±0.41Aa
Subshrub -96.08±2.43Ab -9.30±0.25Aa
S. alopecuroides Annual -93.97±3.17Aa -9.32±0.69Aa
Herbaceous perennial -91.54±4.84ABa -11.17±0.70BCa
Subshrub -105.36±1.30Aa -11.82±0.48Ba
S. breviflora Herbaceous perennial -93.03±1.29ABa -9.85±0.27ABa
Subshrub -89.37±5.73Aa -9.04±0.73Aa
A. splendens Annual -104.30±5.58Ab -11.27±0.98Aa
Herbaceous perennial -110.50±4.20Bb -13.63±0.79Cb
Shrub -84.40±2.60a -9.82±0.41a
Table 1 Comparison of δD and δ18O values of xylem water of different life forms in four plant communities
Fig. 3 Mean proportion of water source for each species in different plant communities. Bars represent standard errors. (a), A. mongolicum community; (b), S. alopecuroids community; (c), S. breviflora community; (d), A. splendens community.
Fig. S1 Daily precipitation, fluctuation of δD values for precipitation event, and average daily temperature in 2021. Arrow indicates sampling date.
Fig. S2 Soil water content from May to November of 2021. Different lowercase letters indicate a significant levels of soil water content in different months within the same community type at P<0.05 level. Bars are standard errors.
Fig. S3 (a), soil water content in different soil layer; (b), vertical distribution of root fresh weight in different plant communities. Bars are standard errors.
Fig. S4 Photograph of soil profile of four communities. (a), A. mongolicum; (b), S. alopecuroids; (c), S. breviflora; (d), A. splendens.
Table S1 Basic information of four typical communities and isotopic composition of xylem water
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