Meng Zhou, Jing Wang, Wenming Bai, Yushi Zhang, Wen-Hao Zhang
Roots are responsible for absorption of water and nutrients, and play important roles in plant growth and survival. Plasticity of root traits can ensure better adaptation of plants to changing environments. Precipitation patterns in temperate grasslands are predicted to change in the future, so elucidation of responses of root traits to such changes can help us understand how plants might adapt to future precipitation change. However, we know little about responses of root traits to precipitation change in field conditions.
We conducted a 10-year water addition experiment in field conditions to simulate likely future precipitation change in temperate grasslands in northern China. Morphological, anatomical and chemical root traits of common species in the community were measured. We further determined root traits of two dominant species across a 700-km regional scale transect along a precipitation gradient ranging from 144 to 412 mm in northern China.
Our results showed that the majority of root traits of the grassland plants were little influenced by the precipitation change, but some plant species can adjust one or two root traits to adapt to changes in water availability in soil. As precipitation fluctuates greatly between years in grassland areas, the small magnitude of response to changing precipitation can allow plant growth and development under the variable environmental conditions.