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Grazing promotes plant functional diversity in alpine meadows on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau

Li, Yu, Dong, Shikui, Gao, Qingzhu, Zhang, Yong, Liu, Shiliang, Swift, David, Zhao, Jinbo, Ganjurjav, Hasbagan, Hu, Guozheng, Wang, Xuexia, Yan, Yulong, Cao, Xujuan, Li, Wenhan, Luo, Wenrong, Zhao, Zhenzhen, Li, Shuai, Gao, Xiaoxia
The Rangeland journal 2019 v.41 no.1 pp. 73-81
Kobresia, Stipa capillata, alpine meadows, alpine plants, carbon, continuous grazing, ecological differentiation, ecological function, economic resources, functional diversity, leaf area, leaves, nitrogen content, phosphorus content, rotational grazing, yaks, China
Grazing exclosures and rotational grazing have been extensively applied to prevent grassland degradation and to restore grassland ecosystem function and services. The mechanisms associated with changes in alpine plant traits, and functional diversity under different grazing regimes have not been deeply explored. We examined the variations of plant leaf traits and functional diversity of an alpine meadow under different grazing regimes in a 3-year experiment. The results showed, after 3 years of yak grazing, that the coverage of Stipa capillata increased, whereas that of Kobresia pygmaea decreased under grazing exclosure. Stipa capillata had a lower ratio of leaf nitrogen content to phosphorus content (N:P) under grazing exclosure than under rotational grazing and continuous grazing, whereas Kobresia pygmaea showed no significant differences among grazing treatments. Among grazing regimes, the specific leaf area (SLA) of Stipa capillata was similar, whereas that of Kobresia pygmaea was higher under grazing exclosure. At the interspecific level, leaf area and weight were negatively correlated with SLA, whereas leaf carbon (C) content, leaf N content, leaf C:P and leaf N:P were negatively related to leaf P content and leaf C:N. These findings indicated that growth-defence trade-off strategies might lead to variations in plant traits and coverage. Large-leaved species, due to high maintenance costs, were less commonly distributed in the community, and they were better defended and unpalatable to yaks due to lower SLA, this formed the species coverage distribution pattern of the community. Various N and P utilisation efficiency of different species indicated diverse economic resources utilisation strategies might be due to niche differentiation in the community. Plots that had been excluded from grazing had the lowest functional richness, evenness, and divergence. Rotational and continuous grazing were equivalent in promoting alpine plant functional diversity.