Plant Interactions with Changes in Coverage of Biological Soil Crusts and Water Regime in Mu Us Sandland, China

Shuqin Gao1, Xu Pan1,3, Qingguo Cui1, Yukun Hu1,3, Xuehua Ye1*, Ming Dong1,2

1 State Key Laboratory of Vegetation and Environmental Change, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China, 2 Key Laboratory of Hangzhou City for Ecosystem Protection and Restoration, Hangzhou Normal University, Hangzhou, China, 3 University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China * For correspondence. * E-mail:



Plant interactions greatly affect plant community structure. Dryland ecosystems are characterized by low amounts of unpredictable precipitation as well as by often having biological soil crusts (BSCs) on the soil surface. In dryland plant communities, plants interact mostly as they compete for water resources, and the direction and intensity of plant interaction varies as a function of the temporal fluctuation in water availability. Since BSCs influence water redistribution to some extent, a greenhouse experiment was conducted to test the hypothesis that the intensity and direction of plant interactions in a dryland plant community can be modified by BSCs. In the experiment, 14 combinations of four plant species (Artemisia ordosica, Artemisia sphaerocephala, Chloris virgata and Setaria viridis) were subjected to three levels of coverage of BSCs and three levels of water supply. The results show that: 1) BSCs affected plant interaction intensity for the four plant species: a 100% coverage of BSCs significantly reduced the intensity of competition between neighboring plants, while it was highest with a 50% coverage of BSCs in combination with the target species of A. sphaerocephala and C. virgata; 2) effects of the coverage of BSCs on plant interactions were modified by water regime when the target species were C. virgata and S. viridis; 3) plant interactions were species-specific. In conclusion, the percent coverage of BSCs affected plant interactions, and the effects were species-specific and could be modified by water regimes. Further studies should focus on effects of the coverage of BSCs on plant-soil hydrological processes.