The drought-tolerant plant Caragana korshinskii Kom. was used to investigate the relative contribution of photorespiration and antioxidative mechanisms to water-stress adaptations across the Loess Plateau. The samples were collected from Shenmu, Yulin and Dongsheng along with the reduction of rainfall. The results showed the lower leaf water potential and the lower content of O2•- and malondialdehyde (MDA) were found in the plants in drier zone. H2O2 didn't show a significant difference among these sampling sites. Both photorespiratory rate (PR) and net photosynthetic rate (PN) increased with the decrease of rainfall. Low rainfall upregulated the gene expression and activities of photorespiratory enzymes. In addition, ascorbate peroxidase (APX), glutathione peroxidase (GPX) and superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity and reduced glutathione (GSH), ascorbic acid (AsA) contents increased with the decrease of rainfall, whereas catalase (CAT) activity decreased. These results indicate photorespiration could play a protective role for the photosynthetic apparatus from photoinhibition and photodamage under low rainfall levels, which could also act together with the antioxidation system to improve the tolerance to drought in C. korshinskii.