Question: Since increases in altitude and grazing intensity generally result in decreases in height growth of alpine grasslands, plant height may integrate effects of environmental stress and grazing disturbance and provide better assessments of the variation in root:shoot (R:S) biomass ratio than other variables. However, it is unclear if there is a general relationship between plant height and R:S ratio across grassland ecosystems. Such knowledge would be helpful for root biomass estimation in grasslands.
Location: An altitudinal transect in the Gonghe Basin (2880–4040 m a.s.l.), northeast Tibetan plateau.
Methods: We measured standing biomass both above-ground and below-ground, maximum plant height (MPH) and soil variables across 43 plots.
Results: Climatic variables explained the variations in MPH and R:S ratio of undegraded grasslands better than soil variables (46–50% vs <19%), while those of degraded grasslands generally showed insignificant correlations with climatic and soil variables. There was a general relationship between R:S ratio and MPH (negative, R2 = 0.76, P < 0.001) across degraded and undegraded grasslands. The relationship was used to predict R:S ratio in 13 additional plots in steppe grasslands of Inner Mongolia, and good agreement of expected and observed values has been found (R2 = 0.87, P < 0.001).
Conclusions: MPH, that is relatively easy to measure, can be used to predict R:S ratio at plot to regional scales. It is promising to develop a new method for large-scale estimation of root biomass in grasslands using MPH and shoot biomass avoiding tedious procedures of physical measuring of above and below-ground biomass.