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Drought-driven shifts in relationships between plant biodiversity and productivity in temperate steppes


Zuo, Xiaoan et al. (2022), Drought-driven shifts in relationships between plant biodiversity and productivity in temperate steppes, Dryad, Dataset,


1. Drought events induced by global climate change strongly modify ecosystem structure and function in grasslands. Higher plant biodiversity can enhance ecosystem resistance to drought, however the potential effects of drought on the relationships between aboveground productivity (ANPP) and biodiversity along a natural aridity gradient remain poorly understood.

2. Here, we studied the effects of experimental drought on plant community structure and ANPP during the two different dry years (2015 and 2017) spanning three temperate steppe sites with low, medium and high aridity levels. We also examined the effects of drought and aridity on the associations of plant species (richness and abundance), functional (community-weighted trait means and functional dispersion) and phylogenetic diversity (evolutionary lineages) with ANPP. A structural equation modeling (SEM) was used to elucidate how the drought affected ANPP by altering biodiversity attributes.

3. We found that experimental drought shaped the biodiversity-ANPP relationships, and the biodiversity-ANPP relationships differed among three sites. At the low aridity site, ANPP was correlated with plant functional traits, whereas ANPP was correlated with functional dispersion, species and phylogenetic diversity at the medium aridity site. At the high aridity site, ANPP was correlated with species richness, functional traits and phylogenetic diversity. As compared with 2015, natural drought in 2017 strengthened the associations of species diversity, functional dispersion, leaf dry matter content and leaf nitrogen content with ANPP across three sites. SEM further showed that both experimental and natural drought directly decreased ANPP, and indirectly decreased ANPP by reducing community-weighted mean of plant height.

4. Synthesis. These results suggest that the aridity increase or drought occurrence is likely to induce the shifts in the associations of ANPP with species and functional diversity, highlighting the important role of water availability or precipitation conditions in regulating the biodiversity-ANPP relationships in temperate steppes. Overall, functional trait related to plant size plays a crucial role in modulating the response of productivity to drought across three steppe sites. Thus, to buffer the negative effects of drought on steppe ANPP should pay attention to protect the species with large plant size.


National Natural Science Foundation of China, Award: 42071140

Second Tibetan Plateau Scientific Expedition and Research program, Award: 2019QZKK0305