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Herbivore assemblage as an important factor modulating grazing effects on ecosystem carbon fluxes in a meadow steppe in northeast China

Cite this dataset

Chang, Qing et al. (2020). Herbivore assemblage as an important factor modulating grazing effects on ecosystem carbon fluxes in a meadow steppe in northeast China [Dataset]. Dryad.


A better understanding of how grazing by large herbivores, as the major land use worldwide, affects grassland carbon fluxes is critical for predicting future uptake of CO2 in terrestrial ecosystem. Previous studies have focused on individual herbivore species; it remains poorly understood as to if and how herbivore assemblage (single- vs. mixed-species) would alter the impact of grazers on grassland carbon fluxes. Here we examined the effects of moderate grazing by different herbivore assemblages on net ecosystem CO2 exchange (NEE), gross ecosystem productivity (GEP) and ecosystem respiration (ER) over the growing season in two types of grassland communities in a meadow steppe. We found that herbivore assemblages significantly affected NEE, and the effects varied in the two types of grassland communities. Compared to un-grazed grassland, mixed grazing of sheep and cattle increased NEE (i.e., increased CO2 uptake) over the growing season regardless of community type, while sheep- or cattle-only grazing increased NEE in the low diversity community and decreased it in the high diversity community. Herbivore assemblages altered the NEE primarily via changing GEP. The different effects of herbivore assemblages on GEP may be attributed mainly to grazing-induced changes in soil water availability and canopy light availability. Our study indicates that mixed grazing of sheep and cattle might be an important grazing management practice to improve plant aboveground productivity and help mitigate CO2 emissions during the growing season. It should be particularly used in diverse plant communities, where it might increase grassland carbon sequestration.


1. Sampling design and measurements

In 2014, after five years of grazing, ecosystem carbon fluxes over the growing season were measured. All the grazing herbivores were excluded from the experimental plots in order to accurately estimate aboveground biomass as it can be reduced by herbivore consumption. Four stationary quadrats (0.5 × 0.5 m) were randomly chosen for the measurement of ecosystem carbon fluxes in each plot per month. Each month over the growing season from May to September, a new quadrat near each quadrat where fluxes were measured was chosen for measurement of plant aboveground biomass and community leaf N assessment. Ecosystem carbon fluxes, plant and soil parameters were measured once a month. Thus, a total of twenty-four quadrats (0.5 × 0.5 m) were selected for measurement in each plot.

2. Net ecosystem carbon exchange

The net ecosystem CO2 exchange (NEE), gross ecosystem productivity (GEP), and ecosystem respiration (ER) were measured using a static-chamber method. Measurements of ecosystem carbon fluxes were conducted monthly around between 8:00 and 12:00 (local time) during cloud-free days, using a LI-COR 6400 portable photosynthesis system (LI-Cor, Lincoln, NE, USA). CO2 concentrations were recorded at 10-s intervals for 2 minutes. NEE was calculated based on the change in CO2 concentrations. Following each NEE measurement, the chamber was vented, then replaced on the surface of frame, and covered with an opaque cloth. The second set of measurements, with light eliminated by the opaque cloth, represented ER. GEP was then calculated as the difference between NEE and ER. Positive NEE values represent net CO2 release from ecosystem and negative values represent net CO2 uptake by it.

3. Plant and soil variables

Every month from May to September, at the same time carbon fluxes were measured, all vegetation in each biomass survey quadrat was clipped to ground level to measure aboveground biomass. The live plant samples were separated into leaf and shoot according to the species, and then were dried at 65℃ for 48 hours to determine leaf biomass and aboveground biomass of each species, the total aboveground biomass of each quadrat, and community leaf N content. In addition, the abundance of each plant species was investigated in four quadrates for measuring carbon fluxes. Leaf N content for each species was analyzed using the Kjeldahl method. Leaf area index of the quadrats for NEE measurements was determined using a plant canopy analyzer.

Three replicate 0-10 cm soil samples were randomly collected once a month near each frame using a 3.5-cm-diameter soil auger and then were pooled to homogenize the samples. Soil samples were passed through a 2-mm mesh sieve to remove roots and other visible debris. Soil water content was determined gravimetrically using 10 g of fresh soil samples dried at 105 ℃ for 24 hours to a constant weight.


Usage notes

Chang et al. 2020

This data used to estimate the effects of herbivore assemblage (single- vs. mixed-species) on ecosystem carbon fluxes, and  related plant and soil variables in a meadow steppe in northeast China. All variables measured in the experiment are included in the file.




National Natural Science Foundation of China, Award: 31772652