Shifting plant species composition in response to climate change stabilizes grassland primary production

Huiying Liu, Zhaorong Mi, Li Lin, Yonghui Wang, Zhenhua Zhang, Fawei Zhang, Hao Wang, Lingli Liu, Biao Zhu, Guangmin Cao, Xinquan Zhao, Nathan J. Sanders, Aimée T. Classen, Peter B Reich, Jin Sheng He

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91 Scopus citations

Abstract

The structure and function of alpine grassland ecosystems, including their extensive soil carbon stocks, are largely shaped by temperature. The Tibetan Plateau in particular has experienced significant warming over the past 50 y, and this warming trend is projected to intensify in the future. Such climate change will likely alter plant species composition and net primary production (NPP). Here we combined 32 y of observations and monitoring with a manipulative experiment of temperature and precipitation to explore the effects of changing climate on plant community structure and ecosystem function. First, long-term climate warming from 1983 to 2014, which occurred without systematic changes in precipitation, led to higher grass abundance and lower sedge abundance, but did not affect aboveground NPP. Second, an experimental warming experiment conducted over 4 y had no effects on any aspect of NPP, whereas drought manipulation (reducing precipitation by 50%), shifted NPP allocation belowground without affecting total NPP. Third, both experimental warming and drought treatments, supported by a meta-analysis at nine sites across the plateau, increased grass abundance at the expense of biomass of sedges and forbs. This shift in functional group composition led to deeper root systems, which may have enabled plant communities to acquire more water and thus stabilize ecosystem primary production even with a changing climate. Overall, our study demonstrates that shifting plant species composition in response to climate change may have stabilized primary production in this high-elevation ecosystem, but it also caused a shift from aboveground to belowground productivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4051-4056
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume115
Issue number16
DOIs
StatePublished - 2018

Keywords

  • Alpine ecosystem
  • Ecosystem functioning
  • Long-term monitoring
  • Tibetan Plateau
  • Warming experiment

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    Liu, H., Mi, Z., Lin, L., Wang, Y., Zhang, Z., Zhang, F., Wang, H., Liu, L., Zhu, B., Cao, G., Zhao, X., Sanders, N. J., Classen, A. T., Reich, P. B., & He, J. S. (2018). Shifting plant species composition in response to climate change stabilizes grassland primary production. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 115(16), 4051-4056. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1700299114