Rainfall pulses can significantly drive the evolution of the structure and function of semiarid ecosystems, and understanding the mechanisms that underlie the response of semiarid plants to rainfall is the key to understanding the responses of semi–arid ecosystems to global climatic change. We measured sap flow in the branches and stems of shrubs (Caragana korshinskii Kom. and Hippophae rhamnoides Linn.) using sap flow gauges, and studied the response of sap flow density to rainfall pulses using the “threshold–delay” model in the Chinese Loess Plateau. The results showed that the sap flow began about 1 h earlier, and increased twofold after rainfall, compared to its pre-rainfall value. The sap flow increased significantly with increasing rainfall classes, then gradually decreased. The response of sap flow was different among rainfall, species, position (branch and stem) during the pulse period, and the interactive effects also differed significantly (P < 0.0001). The response pattern followed the threshold–delay model, with lower rainfall thresholds of 5.2, 5.5 mm and 0.7, 0.8 mm of stem and branch for C. korshinskii and H. rhamnoides, demonstrating the importance of small rainfall events for plant growth and survival in semi–arid regions.
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