Plant traits in influencing soil moisture in semiarid grasslands of the Loess Plateau, China

Qindi Zhang, Wei Wei, Liding Chen, Lei Yang, Yiqi Luo, Andong Cai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Large-scale vegetation restoration projects pose threats to water resource security in water-limited regions. Thus, the quantification of how vegetation cover affects soil moisture is of key importance to support effective restoration schemes in drylands. However, the current understanding of such effects remains poor. For this study, an in-situ vegetation-removal experiment was conducted at 36 herbaceous grassland sites having different community compositions and topographical conditions in two adjacent loess watersheds of the Loess Plateau, China. The effects of vegetation cover (vegetation effects) on soil moisture were analyzed across soil profiles (0–180 cm) and two growing seasons. Overall, 13 plant traits and 7 topographic and soil properties were employed to evaluate how community compositions modulated vegetation effects on soil moisture. The results showed that vegetation cover increased soil moisture in the surface layer (0–20 cm) by 6.81% during wet periods (semi-monthly rainfall >30 mm) relative to an in-situ unvegetated control, but primarily induced a decline of soil moisture in the deep soil layer (20–180 cm) by 19.44% across two growing seasons. Redundancy analysis (RDA) and structural equation modeling (SEM) suggested that these vegetation effects on soil moisture were significantly correlated with vegetative height, leaf area, shallow root allocation, and slope gradient. Our study revealed that tall, small-leaved, and shallow-rooted plants on flat topographies were beneficial to soil water retention and replenishment. This implied that current restoration strategies may be significantly improved through the development of optimal communities and diverse terracing measures. Our findings are anticipated to provide effective guidance for soil water conservation, as well as ecosystem rehabilitation in dry and degraded regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number137355
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - May 20 2020


  • Beneficial community structure
  • Functional traits
  • Loess Plateau
  • Semiarid grasslands
  • Soil moisture
  • Vegetation removal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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