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Effects of fertilization and irrigation on productivity, plant nutrient contents and soil nutrients in southern Mongolia

The study attempts to evaluate the effect of fertilization and irrigation on steppe productivity in dry southern Mongolian desert-steppes. We conducted an irrigation- and NPK fertilization experiment, irrigating at levels of +100 mm and fertilizers at amounts equivalent to 20 gN (m2 year)−1 in a factorial design. We tested the effects on soil nutrients and biomass production. Nutrients in plant tissue were analysed for Stipa krylovii and S. gobica, and for mixed subsamples of total above- and belowground biomass. Available P and K and total K increased in the soil after fertilization while irrigation reduced total N. Biomass yield almost tripled and inflorescence numbers increased by factors of 4–8 due to fertilization while irrigation alone had very restricted effects and only increased biomass of Agropyron cristatum. Nutrient content of biomass was elevated on fertilized plots. Results indicate that steppe productivity is severely restricted by nutrient availability even under ambient precipitation levels, raising the question whether nutrient withdrawal caused by current land use practices has detrimental effects on pasture productivity. The anticipated beneficial effect of increasing water availability however could not be confirmed. Whether there is an improvement in productivity due to increasing rainfall, as predicted by some climate change models, will depend on the distribution and intensity of rain events.



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