Although the net primary productivity (NPP) of arid/semiarid ecosystem is generally thought to be controlled by precipitation, other factors like CO2 fertilization effect and temperature change may also have important impacts, especially in the cold temperate areas of the northern China, where
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Although the net primary productivity (NPP) of arid/semiarid ecosystem is generally thought to be controlled by precipitation, other factors like CO2
fertilization effect and temperature change may also have important impacts, especially in the cold temperate areas of the northern China, where significant warming was reported in the recent decades. However, the impacts of climate and atmospheric CO2
changes to the NPP dynamics in the arid and semiarid areas of China (ASA-China) is still unclear, hindering the development of climate adaptation strategy. Based on numeric experiments and factorial analysis, this study isolated and quantified the effects of climate and CO2
changes between 1980–2014 on ASA-China’s NPP, using the Arid Ecosystem Model (AEM) that performed well in predicting ecosystems’ responses to climate/CO2
change according to our evaluation based on 21 field experiments. Our results showed that the annual variation in NPP was dominated by changes in precipitation, which reduced the regional NPP by 10.9 g·C/(m2
·year). The precipitation-induced loss, however, has been compensated by the CO2
fertilization effect that increased the regional NPP by 14.9 g·C/(m2
·year). The CO2
fertilization effect particularly benefited the extensive croplands in the Northern China Plain, but was weakened in the dry grassland of the central Tibetan Plateau due to suppressed plant activity as induced by a drier climate. Our study showed that the climate change in ASA-China and the ecosystem’s responses were highly heterogeneous in space and time. There were complex interactive effects among the climate factors, and different plant functional types (e.g., phreatophyte vs. non-phreatophyte) could have distinct responses to similar climate change. Therefore, effective climate-adaptive strategies should be based on careful analysis of local climate pattern and understanding of the characteristic responses of the dominant species. Particularly, China’s policy makers should pay close attention to climate change and ecosystem health in northeastern China, where significant loss in forest NPP has been triggered by drought, and carefully balance the ecological and agricultural water usage. For wildlife conservation, the drought-stressed grassland in the central Tibetan Plateau should be protected from overgrazing in the face of dramatic warming in the 21st century.