Background – Shrublands are receiving increasing attention because of climate change. However, knowledge about biomass allocation of shrublands at the community level and how this is regulated by climate is of limited availability but critical for accurately estimating carbon stocks and predicting global carbon cycles.
Methods – We sampled 50 typical shrublands along a climate gradient in China and investigated the biomass allocation of shrubland at the community level and the effect of climate on biomass allocation. Shrub biomass was estimated using species-specific allometric relationships and the biomass of understory herbs was collected by excavating the whole plant. Regression analysis was used to examine the relationships between the biomass and the climate factors. RMA were conducted to establish the allometric relationships between the root and the shoot biomass at the community level.
Key results – Shoot, root, and total biomass of shrub communities across different sites were estimated with median values of 206.5, 145.8, and 344.5 g/m2, respectively. Shoot, root, and total biomass of herb communities were estimated at 68.2, 58.9, and 117.2 g/m2, respectively. The median value of the R/S ratio of shrub communities was 0.58 and that of herb communities was 0.84. The R/S ratio of the shrub community showed a negative relationship with mean annual temperature and mean annual precipitation and a positive relationship with total annual sunshine and the aridity index. The R/S ratio of the herb community however showed a weak relationship with climate factors. Shoot biomass of the shrub community was nearly proportional to root biomass with a scaling exponent of 1.17, whereas shoot biomass of the herb community was disproportional to root biomass with a scaling exponent of 2.1.
Conclusions – In shrublands, root biomass was more affected than shoot biomass by climate factors and this is related to water availability as a result of biomass allocation change of the shrub community. The understory herb community was less affected by climate due to the modification of the overstory–understory interaction to the climate-induced biomass allocation pattern. Shoot biomass of shrubs scales isometrically with root biomass at the community level, which supports the isometric theory of above-ground and below-ground biomass partitioning.
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