Nitrogen addition increases sexual reproduction and improves seedling growth in the perennial rhizomatous grass Leymus chinensis

Song Gao, Junfeng Wang*, Johannes M.H. Knops, Jiao Wang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The Eurasian steppe is an important vegetation type characterized by cold, arid and nitrogen poor conditions. At the Eastern edge, including in the Songnen grassland, the vegetation is dominated by Leymus chinensis (henceforth L. chinensis) and is increasing threatened by elevated anthropogenic nitrogen deposition. L. chinensis is a perennial grass that mainly reproduces vegetatively and its sexual reproduction is limited. However, sexual reproduction plays an important role influencing colonization after large disturbances. To develop an understanding of how elevated nitrogen deposition changes the plant community structure and functioning we need a better understanding how sexual reproduction of L. chinensis changes with nitrogen enrichment. Here we report on a field experiment where we added 10 g N m- 2 yr- 1 and examined changes in seed traits, seed germination and early seedling growth. Results: Nitrogen addition increased seed production by 79%, contributing to this seed increases were a 28% increase in flowering plant density, a 40% increase in seed number per plant and a 11% increase in seed weight. Seed size increased with a 42% increase in large seeds and a 49% decrease in the smallest seed size category. Seed germination success improved by 10% for small seeds and 18% for large seeds. Combined, the increased in seed production and improved seed quality doubled the potential seed germination. Subsequent seedling above and below-ground biomass also significantly increased. Conclusions: All aspects of L. chinensis sexual reproduction increased with nitrogen addition. Thus, L. chinensis competitive ability may increase when atmospheric nitrogen deposition increases, which may further reduce overall plant diversity in the low diversity Songnen grasslands.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106
JournalBMC Plant Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 6 Mar 2020


  • Dominant species
  • Nitrogen deposition
  • Seed production
  • Seedling growth
  • Semi-arid grassland

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