Contrasting responses of plant above and belowground biomass carbon pools to extreme drought in six grasslands spanning an aridity gradient

Md Shahariar Jaman, Honghui Wu, Qiang Yu, Qiqi Tan, Yunlong Zhang, Quoc Khanh Dam, Taofeek O. Muraina, Chong Xu, Minghui Jing, Xiaotong Jia, Jie Wang, Nianpeng He, Wentao Luo, Alan Knapp, Kate Wilkins, Scott L. Collins, Yiqi Luo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Background and aim: As global climate change intensifies, the frequency and duration of extreme droughts are predicted to increase, resulting in extended periods of reduced soil water availability across ecosystems. The allocation of carbon (C) to above- and below-ground plant biomass is a fundamental ecosystem property that varies spatially and temporally with water availability. Yet, how extreme drought affects biomass Cpools along an aridity gradient remains poorly understood. Methods: To elucidate the effects of extreme drought on above- and belowground carbon storage, we conducted a 3-year (2015–2017) precipitation manipulation experiment (66% reduction in growing season precipitation) to simulate a multi-year extreme drought across six grasslands spanning an aridity gradient from desert steppe, typical steppe, and meadow steppe in northern China. Results: Extreme drought significantly decreased aboveground biomass carbon (AGBC) and litter carbon (LC), but did not affect belowground biomass carbon (BGBC) across the six grasslands. As a result, grassland total carbon (TC) in plant biomass declined overall by ~10%. Across the aridity gradient, drought-induced reductions in AGBC and LC increased with increasing aridity (i.e., reductions were greater in desert steppe than meadow steppe). In contrast, extreme drought increased BGBC in the drier grasslands (desert steppe and typical steppe), but decreased BGBC in the more mesic meadow steppe sites. Conclusion: We found that extreme drought elicited contrasting responses of plant above- and belowground carbon across an aridity gradient, and that regionally extreme drought will result in a loss of total plant carbon in grasslands dominated by aboveground plant carbon pools.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-180
Number of pages14
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • Biomass carbon
  • Climate change
  • Extreme drought
  • Grassland
  • Precipitation manipulation experiment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Plant Science


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