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Data from: Environmental controls override grazing effects on plant functional traits in Tibetan rangelands

Cite this dataset

Jäschke, Yun; Wesche, Karsten; Heberling, Gwendolyn (2019). Data from: Environmental controls override grazing effects on plant functional traits in Tibetan rangelands [Dataset]. Dryad.


  1. Plant functional traits are key to predict community responses to abiotic and biotic disturbances. Grazing is the dominant land use form in drylands and alpine environments, especially in Central Asian rangelands. Here, we address grazing effects and their relative importance against environmental controls on plant traits.
  2. We sampled 14 plant traits, which are potentially sensitive to grazing, from 127 taxa distributed across three grassland types in Tibetan pastures exposed to increasing levels of precipitation: steppe, steppe-meadow and meadow. We performed principal components analysis and fourth-corner analysis to explore the impacts of grazing and environment on multiple community-weighted mean (CWM) traits. We also used generalised linear mixed models to test the effects of grazing and environment on each CWM trait, and on three dimensions of functional trait diversity, i.e. functional richness (FRic), evenness (FEve) and divergence (FDiv). In addition, we undertook a mini-review of former studies on grazing effects on plant traits in Chinese grasslands.
  3. We found that CWM traits were mainly affected by climate and elevation rather than by grazing intensity. Only plant tissue C content was negatively affected by intensified grazing across grassland types. Plant growth form and life form were mainly influenced by elevation, while heights of canopy and inflorescence were controlled by temperature. Specific leaf area (SLA) was positively correlated with precipitation and soil total N content in steppes, while plant tissue N content was only correlated to livestock dung cover. Regarding functional trait diversity, FDiv in steppe-meadows and meadows, and FEve in meadows were reduced by grazing.
  4. Synthesis: Our results confirmed that environmental controls override grazing impact on CWM traits across Tibetan alpine grasslands. Most plants and their respective traits are adaptive to alpine climates as well as to grazing, and are thus hardly affected by locally intensified grazing intensity. In steppes, measures of functional diversity are apparently insensitive to grazing due to the dominant stress of drought and the long evolutionary history of grazing. However, in steppe-meadows and meadows, grazing may affect ecosystem functioning, as shown by the reduced values of FDiv and FEve under more intense grazing.


We sampled plant traits for the most abundant species that comprised ≥ 80% of biomass on relatively heavily vs. lightly grazed plot. The grazing intensity of the plot depended on the distance to herder camps.

Fourteen plant traits that are potentially sensitive to grazing were measured and recorded following standard methods. Traits include are described in Table S2 in the paper.