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Effects of grazing and climate warming on plant diversity, productivity and living state in the alpine rangelands and cultivated grasslands of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau

Zhang, Yong, Gao, Qingzhu, Dong, Shikui, Liu, Shiliang, Wang, Xuexia, Su, Xukun, Li, Yuanyuan, Tang, Lin, Wu, Xiaoyu, Zhao, Haidi
The Rangeland journal 2015 v.37 no.1 pp. 57-65
alpine meadows, biomass, continuous grazing, fiberglass, forage, global warming, indigenous species, overgrazing, rangelands, steppes, stocking rate, vegetation cover, yaks, China
Overgrazing and climate warming may be important drivers of alpine rangeland degradation in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (QTP). In this study, the effects of grazing and experimental warming on the vegetation of cultivated grasslands, alpine steppe and alpine meadows on the QTP were investigated. The three treatments were a control, a warming treatment and a grazing treatment and were replicated three times on each vegetation type. The warming treatment was applied using fibreglass open-top chambers and the grazing treatment was continuous grazing by yaks at a moderately high stocking rate. Both grazing and warming negatively affected vegetation cover. Grazing reduced vegetation height while warming increased vegetation height. Grazing increased but warming reduced plant diversity. Grazing decreased and warming increased the aboveground plant biomass. Grazing increased the preferred forage species in native rangelands (alpine steppe and alpine meadow), while warming increased the preferred forage species in the cultivated grassland. Grazing reduced the vegetation living state (VLS) of all three alpine grasslands by nearly 70%, while warming reduced the VLS of the cultivated grassland and the alpine steppe by 32% and 56%, respectively, and promoted the VLS of the alpine meadow by 20.5%. It was concluded that overgrazing was the main driver of change to the alpine grassland vegetation on the QTP. The findings suggest that grazing regimes should be adapted in order for them to be sustainable in a warmer future.