Karst rocky desertification (KRD) is a process of soil desertification, which leads to the decline of soil quality and biomass. We conducted a plant community survey in KRD areas in Chongqing, China. Our aims were to determine key soil properties that shape plant communities and to identify essential leaf functional traits (LFTs) in responding to the progression of KRD. The vegetation survey was carried in a total of twenty study sites (five replicates for four stages of KRD) in the Wushan County in Chongqing, China. Leaves were collected from all the species in every site and measured/calculated for five LFTs, namely, specific leaf area, leaf area, leaf thickness, leaf tissue density, and leaf dry matter content. Soil samples were collected in triplicates in each site to measure soil properties. We found that the overall richness and diversity of community decreased along with the progression of KRD. Phanerophytes predominated in all the KRD areas. Soil pH was the main determinant of vegetation structure. Leaves with lower area yet higher density had the optimal adaptability in KRD regions, which can be planted as pioneer vegetation to restore land in KRD regions.
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