Journal of Arid Land

Article Title

Distribution pattern of Caragana species under the influence of climate gradient in the Inner Mongolia region, China


There is a strong climate gradient in the Inner Mongolia region, China, with solar radiation and air temperature increasing but precipitation decreasing gradually from the northeast to the southwest. Sixteen Caragana species exist in the Inner Mongolia region. These Caragana species exhibit a distribution pattern across moisture zones and form a geographical replacement series. In order to examine the mechanisms responsible for Caragana species distribution pattern, we selected 12 Caragana species that exhibit a distinct distribution pattern across multiple moisture zones in the Inner Mongolia region, and determined the relationships between the leaf ecological and physiological traits of these Caragana species and the aridity index and solar radiation. Along with the climatic drought gradient and the solar radiation intensification from the northeast to the southwest, leaf ecological characteristics of Caragana species changed drastically, i.e. the leaf shape gradually turned from flat into tegular or tubbish; the leaf hair became denser, longer and lighter in color; the leaf area, leaf biomass and specific leaf area (SLA) decreased significantly; the leaf thickness and the ratio of leaf thickness to leaf area increased significantly; and the leaf chlorophyll content decreased significantly. As the climatic drought stress increased, osmotic potentials of the main osmotic adjustment substances and the cytoplasmic ion concentration of Caragana species increased significantly. Meanwhile, the total and free water contents and water potential of leaves decreased significantly; the ratio of bound to free water increased significantly; the stomatal conductance and transpiration rate reduced significantly; and the water use efficiency (WUE) increased significantly. In addition, with the intensification of climatic drought stress, peroxidase (POD) and superoxide dismutase (SOD) activities in leaves increased significantly. As a result, the malondialdehyde (MDA) content increased while the oxygen free radical content decreased. Our results showed that most of the leaf ecological and physiological traits of the 12 Caragana species varied in accordance with the climatic drought gradient in the Inner Mongolia region, which reflected the adaptation of the Caragana species to the local climate conditions. With relatively more active metabolism and faster growth, the Caragana species in the northeast had strong competitive abilities; on the other hand, with stronger resistance to climatic drought stress, the Caragana species in the southwest could survive in harsh environments. Based on our results, we concluded that both the environmental gradients and the adaptive responses of Caragana species to their environments played important roles in the formation of the Caragana species distribution pattern across the Inner Mongolia region.

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