Investigating how seed germination of multiple species in an ecosystem responds to environmental conditions is crucial for understanding the mechanisms for community structure and biodiversity maintenance. However, knowledge of seed germination response of species to environmental conditions is still scarce at the community level. We hypothesized that responses of seed germination to environmental conditions differ among species at the community level, and that germination response is not correlated with seed size. To test this hypothesis, we determined the response of seed germination of 20 common species in the Siziwang Desert Steppe, China, to seasonal temperature regimes (representing April, May, June, and July) and drought stress (0, −0.003, −0.027, −0.155, and −0.87 MPa). Seed germination percentage increased with increasing temperature regime, but Allium ramosum, Allium tenuissimum, Artemisia annua, Artemisia mongolica, Artemisia scoparia, Artemisia sieversiana, Bassia dasyphylla, Kochia prastrata, and Neopallasia pectinata germinated to >60% in the lowest temperature regime (April). Germination decreased with increasing water stress, but Allium ramosum, Artemisia annua, Artemisia scoparia, Bassia dasyphylla, Heteropappus altaicus, Kochia prastrata, Neopallasia pectinata, and Potentilla tanacetifolia germinated to near 60% at −0.87 MPa. Among these eight species, germination of six was tolerant to both temperature and water stress. Mean germination percentage in the four temperature regimes and the five water potentials was not significantly correlated with seed mass or seed area, which were highly correlated. Our results suggest that the species‐specific germination responses to environmental conditions are important in structuring the desert steppe community and have implications for predicting community structure under climate change. Thus, the predicted warmer and dryer climate will favor germination of drought‐tolerant species, resulting in altered proportions of germinants of different species and subsequently change in community composition of the desert steppe.

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Published in Ecology and Evolution, v. 9, issue 4, p. 2149-2159.

© 2019 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China [grant numbers 31470476, 31570416 and 31770514] and the Initiative Projects of Inner Mongolia Research Center for Prataculture, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

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