Ecosystem stability and compensatory effects in the Inner Mongolia grassland

Abstract

Numerous studies have suggested that biodiversity reduces variability in ecosystem productivity through compensatory effects1,2,3,4,5,6; that is, a species increases in its abundance in response to the reduction of another in a fluctuating environment1,7. But this view has been challenged on several grounds8,9,10. Because most studies have been based on artificially constructed grasslands with short duration, long-term studies of natural ecosystems are needed. On the basis of a 24-year study of the Inner Mongolia grassland, here we present three key findings. First, that January–July precipitation is the primary climatic factor causing fluctuations in community biomass production; second, that ecosystem stability (conversely related to variability in community biomass production) increases progressively along the hierarchy of organizational levels (that is, from species to functional group to whole community); and finally, that the community-level stability seems to arise from compensatory interactions among major components at both species and functional group levels. From a hierarchical perspective, our results corroborate some previous findings of compensatory effects1,4,7,11. Undisturbed mature steppe ecosystems seem to culminate with high biodiversity, productivity and ecosystem stability concurrently. Because these relationships are correlational, further studies are necessary to verify the causation among these factors. Our study provides new insights for better management and restoration of the rapidly degrading Inner Mongolia grassland.

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Figure 1: The relationship between January–July precipitation and total community aboveground biomass (Bcomm) for the Leymus chinensis (site A) and Stipa grandis (site B) steppe ecosystems of the Inner Mongolia grassland, using data from 1980 to 2003.
Figure 2: Coefficients of variation (CVs) in aboveground biomass at different organizational levels in the two study sites.
Figure 3: Time series of the relative aboveground biomass of plant functional groups from 1980 to 2003.

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Acknowledgements

We thank D. Huang, Y. Li, Q. Pan, Q. Qi, S. Wang, Yanfen Wang, Yifeng Wang, Z. Yang and others for their contributions to the long-term data collection at IMGERS. This project was supported by the State Key Basic Research and Development Plan of China, the Natural Science Foundation of China and the Knowledge Innovation Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

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Correspondence to Jianguo Wu.

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The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Figure 1

Comparison of species-area relation and biomass production between undisturbed and heavily degraded steppe communities which were close to each other. The undisturbed mature steppe community (Site A) was dominated by Leymus chinensis, and the severely degraded steppe community was dominated by Cleistogenes squarrosa and short grasses. B = aboveground biomass, and SE = standard error. Species richness and aboveground biomass were much higher in the undisturbed mature community than the disturbed site. (JPG 89 kb)

Supplementary Figure 2

Spearman’s rank correlations between all plant functional groups (PFGs) in Site A in terms of aboveground biomass, in which PR = perennial rhizome grass, PB = perennial bunchgrasses, PF = perennial forbs, SS = shrubs and semi-shrubs, and AB = annuals and biennials. A negative correlation was found between PR and PB (r=-0.27, P=0.0032), between PR and PF (r=-0.30, P=0.0008), and between PF and AB (r=-0.25, P=0.0069). A positive correlation existed between PB and SS (r=0.23, P=0.0114), between PB and AB (r=0.27, P=0.0032), and between SS and AB (r=0.22, P=0.0142). The rest of the PFG pairs showed no significant correlation. (JPG 238 kb)

Supplementary Figure 3

3 Spearman’s rank correlations between all plant functional groups (PFGs) in Site B in terms of aboveground biomass, in which PR = perennial rhizome grass, PB = perennial bunchgrasses, PF = perennial forbs, SS = shrubs and semi-shrubs, and AB = annuals and biennials. A negative correlation was found between PR and PB (r=-0.48, P<0.0001), PR and PF (r=-0.33, P=0.0002), PR and SS (r=-0.30, P=0.0010), and between PR and AB (r=-0.31, P=0.0004). A positive correlation existed between PB and SS (r=0.25, P=0.0058), PB and AB (r=0.30, P=0.0009), and PF and AB (r=0.28, P=0.0020). The rest of the PFG pairs showed no significant correlation. (JPG 225 kb)

Supplementary Table 1

Quantitative characteristics of functional groups (DOC 31 kb)

Supplementary Table 2

Species correlation matrix of Site A (DOC 140 kb)

Supplementary Table 3

Species correlation matrix of Site B (DOC 87 kb)

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Bai, Y., Han, X., Wu, J. et al. Ecosystem stability and compensatory effects in the Inner Mongolia grassland. Nature 431, 181–184 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02850

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