Spatial relationships among soil nutrients, plant biodiversity and aboveground biomass in the Inner Mongolia grassland, China
The relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning (BEF) is a central issue in ecology, and a number of recent field experimental studies have greatly improved our understanding of this relationship. Spatial heterogeneity is a ubiquitous characterization of ecosystem processes, and has played a significant role in shaping BEF relationships. The first step towards understanding the effects of spatial heterogeneity on the BEF relationships is to quantify spatial heterogeneity characteristics of key variables of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, and identify the spatial relationships among these variables. The goal of our research was to address the following research questions based on data collected in 2005 (corresponding to the year when the initial site background information was conducted) and in 2008 (corresponding to the year when removal treatments were conducted) from the Inner Mongolia Grassland Removal Experiment (IMGRE) located in northern China: 1) What are the spatial patterns of soil nutrients, plant biodiversity, and aboveground biomass in a natural grassland community of Inner Mongolia, China? How are they related spatially? and 2) How do removal treatments affect the spatial patterns of soil nutrients, plant biodiversity, and aboveground biomass? Is there any change for their spatial correlations after removal treatments? Our results showed that variables of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in the natural grassland community would present different spatial patterns, and they would be spatially correlated to each other closely. Removal treatments had a significant effect on spatial structures and spatial correlations of variables, compared to those prior to the removal treatments. The differences in spatial pattern of plant and soil variables and their correlations before and after the biodiversity manipulation may not imply that the results from BEF experiments like IMGRE are invalid. However, they do suggest that the possible effects of spatial heterogeneity on the BEF relationships should be critically evaluated in future studies.