Biodiv Sci ›› 2023, Vol. 31 ›› Issue (10): 23144.  DOI: 10.17520/biods.2023144

• Original Papers: Plant Diversity • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The ecological uniqueness of plant communities and their determinants across the temperate deserts of China

Jianming Wang1, Xun Lei1, Yiming Feng2, Bo Wu2, Qi Lu2, Nianpeng He3, Jingwen Li1,*()   

  1. 1. School of Ecology and Nature Conservation, Beijing Forestry University, Beijing 100083
    2. Institute of Desertification Studies, Chinese Academy of Forestry, Beijing 100091
    3. Key Laboratory of Ecosystem Network Observation and Modeling, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101
  • Received:2023-05-08 Accepted:2023-08-29 Online:2023-10-20 Published:2023-11-30
  • Contact: *E-mail:


Aims: Overall beta diversity can be partitioned into the relative contributions of its individual sampling units, which represent comparative indicators of the ecological uniqueness of each local community within the sampling units. Temperate desert ecosystems are widely distributed primarily in arid and extremely arid regions and are especially sensitive to influence by climate change and human activities. However, distribution patterns of unique desert plant ecologies and their determining factors have yet to be studied extensively, which has hindered our understanding of mechanism for maintaining desert biodiversity in these regions. Therefore, this study aims to explore the ecological uniqueness of plant communities and identify their determinants in temperate deserts of China.

Methods: In this study, we selected 948 plots (10 m × 10 m) at 316 sites in the temperate deserts of China. We computed beta diversity as the total variation within the community data and used a plotting-based approach to determine if ecological uniqueness is related to the local environmental conditions and/or community characteristics. Stepwise multiple regressions and variation partitioning analyses were performed to further infer the mechanisms driving the geographic patterns of desert plant ecological uniqueness.

Results: The ecological uniqueness of desert plants exhibited significant variations based on longitudinal, latitudinal, and elevational patterns. Plant ecological uniqueness significantly decreased with longitude but displayed a U-shaped relationship with latitude and elevation. In addition, we observed a U-shaped relationship between plant ecological uniqueness and plant species richness. The soil, climate, and community characteristics (i.e., plant species richness and community coverage) significantly influenced the ecological uniqueness of plant communities. Longitude, soil, climate, and community characteristics taken together explained 33.5% of the total variation in the ecological uniqueness of plant communities. In addition, climatic factors demonstrated a more significant influence on the ecological uniqueness of the plant communities when compared to the soil and community characteristics.

Conclusions: Taken together, we propose that the ecological uniqueness of desert plant communities is regulated by environment filtering, neutral processes, and other unknown processes, where the soil and climate are primary drivers of uniqueness.

Key words: Chinese temperate desert, beta diversity, ecological uniqueness, environment filtering, soil, climate, community characteristics