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Abiotic and biotic factors modulate plant biomass and root/shoot (R/S) ratios in grassland on the Loess Plateau, China

Yang, Yang, Dou, Yanxing, An, Shaoshan, Zhu, Zhaolong
The Science of the total environment 2018 v.636 pp. 621-631
aboveground biomass, altitude, belowground biomass, biotic factors, bulk density, carbon sinks, correlation, grasslands, microbial biomass, nitrogen, nitrogen content, phosphorus, phytomass, principal component analysis, roots, shoots, soil chemical properties, soil microorganisms, soil organic carbon, soil temperature, soil water, spatial variation, structural equation modeling, terrestrial ecosystems, China
Plant biomass and the root/shoot ratio (R/S) are key parameters for estimating terrestrial ecosystem carbon (C) stocks. However, how environmental driving factors (abiotic and biotic factors) modulate plant biomass and R/S has not been well investigated on the Loess Plateau. Here, we tested the impacts of abiotic and biotic driving factors on plant biomass and R/S and whether they are in accordance with optimal partitioning theory in natural grassland in this region. The results showed that above-ground biomass (AGB) and below-ground biomass (BGB) were 63.96 g·m−2 and 311.18 g·m−2, respectively, and that R/S ranged from 0.13 to 0.46, with high spatial heterogeneity. There was a strong positive linear relationship between AGB and BGB (p < 0.05) in accordance with optimal partitioning theory. A principal component analysis (PCA) indicated that the topographic properties (Slope position, Slope gradient and Altitude) were negatively correlated with the soil physical properties (Ec,Electric conductivity; BD, Bulk density; ST, Soil temperature; and SM, Soil moisture) and positively correlated with the soil chemical properties (SOC, Soil organic carbon; TN, Total nitrogen; SMBC, Soil microbial biomass carbon and SMBN, Soil microbial biomass nitrogen), while soil total phosphorus (TP) was not correlated with the soil physical properties (p > 0.05). Structural equation modeling (SEM) suggested that R/S is indirectly driven by plant properties (Height, Density, Coverage), which are determined by soil and topographic properties. However, only 5% of R/S was explained by the soil physical properties and topographic properties, suggesting that these factors had no significant effect on R/S. The data do, however, provide information for quantifying C stocks in natural grassland on the Loess Plateau. Further, ecologists should focus on mechanistic and fresh approaches to understanding the abiotic and biotic factors influencing plant biomass and R/S.