Plant Ecology and Evolution 144(3): 313-320, doi: 10.5091/plecevo.2011.617
Long-term effects of grazing exclusion on aboveground and belowground plant species diversity in a steppe of the Loess Plateau, China
expand article infoLing-Ping Zhao, Ji-Suai Su, Gao-Lin Wu, François Gillet
Open Access
Background and aims – Livestock grazing exclusion was widely used to manage degraded grassland ecosystems, but little is known on the effects of long-term grazing exclusion on aboveground and belowground species diversity of the steppe vegetation in China. Material and methods – The species composition of the aboveground vegetation and the soil seed bank were examined on sites after a 25-year grazing exclusion in a typical steppe on the Loess Plateau, NW China. Key results – Results showed that long-term grazing exclusion significantly improved vegetation cover, biomass and aboveground species evenness. Long-term grazing exclusion significantly increased species richness and seed density in the soil seed bank, but significantly decreased belowground species evenness. The seeds were mainly present in the litter and the topsoil (0–5 cm), accounting for about 76% of the total seed number. Exclusion of grazing significantly decreased seed depletion in soil seed bank from April to July as compared to grazed sites. The Sørensen similarity index between aboveground and belowground species composition was low in the typical steppe, and long-term grazing exclusion did not significantly improve this similarity. Conclusion – Our results suggest that long-term grazing exclusion can significantly improve both aboveground and belowground species diversity in the steppe vegetation of the Loess Plateau, but has little or no effect on the similarity in composition between the two compartments.