Defoliation and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi shape plant communities in overgrazed semiarid grasslands

TitleDefoliation and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi shape plant communities in overgrazed semiarid grasslands
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsYang, X, Shen, Y, Liu, N, Wilson, GWT, Cobb, AB, Zhang, Y
Pagination1847 - 1856
Accession NumberKNZ001905

Overgrazing substantially contributes to global grassland degradation by decreasing plant community productivity and diversity through trampling, defoliation, and removal of nutrients. Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi also play a critical role in plant community diversity, composition, and primary productivity, maintaining ecosystem functions. However, interactions between grazing disturbances, such as trampling and defoliation, and AM fungi in grassland communities are not well known. We examined influences of trampling, defoliation, and AM fungi on semiarid grassland plant community composition for 3 yr, by comparing all combinations of these factors. Benomyl fungicide was applied to reduce AM fungal abundance. Overgrazing typically resulted in reduced dominance of Stipa Krylovii, contributing to degradation of typical steppe grasslands. Our results indicated trampling generally had little effect on plant community composition, unless combined with defoliation or AM fungal suppression. Defoliation was the main component of grazing that promoted dominance of Potentilla acaulis over Stipa krylovii and Artemisia frigida, presumably by alleviating light limitation. In non‐defoliated plots, AM fungi promoted A. frigida, with a concomitant reduction in S. krylovii growth compared to corresponding AM suppressed plots. Our results indicate AM fungi and defoliation jointly suppress S. krylovii biomass; however, prolonged defoliation weakens mycorrhizal influence on plant community composition. These findings give new insight into dominant plant species shifts in degraded semiarid grasslands.