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Vegetation and soil responses to livestock grazing in Central Asian grasslands: a review of Chinese literature

Wang, Yun, Wesche, Karsten
Biodiversity and conservation 2016 v.25 no.12 pp. 2401-2420
aboveground biomass, atmospheric precipitation, belowground biomass, bulk density, case studies, ecosystems, grasslands, grazing intensity, livelihood, livestock, phosphorus, plant response, roots, shoots, soil density, soil organic carbon, soil pH, species diversity, temperature, vegetation cover, China
Grasslands in northern China and the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau are particularly important to both ecosystem functioning and pastoral livelihoods. Although there are numerous degradation studies on the effect of livestock grazing across the region, they are largely only published in Chinese, and most focus on single sites. Based on case studies from 100 sites, covering a mean annual precipitation gradient of 95–744 mm, we present a comprehensive, internationally accessible review on the impact of livestock grazing on vegetation and soils. We compared ungrazed or slightly grazed sites with moderately and heavily grazed sites by evaluating changes in two indicator groups: vegetation (plant species richness, vegetation cover, aboveground biomass, belowground biomass and root/shoot ratio) and soil (pH, bulk density, organic C, total N, total P and available P). Most indicators declined with intensified grazing, while soil pH, bulk density and belowground biomass increased. Available P showed no clear response. Variables within indicator groups were mostly linearly correlated at a given grazing intensity. Relative grazing effects on different indicators varied along specific abiotic gradients. Grazing responses of plant species richness, aboveground biomass, soil bulk density, total N and available P interacted with precipitation patterns, while grazing effects on belowground biomass were influenced by temperature. Elevation had impact on grazing responses of aboveground biomass and soil organic carbon. Complex grazing effects reflect both methodological inconsistency and ecological complexity. Further assessments should consider specific characteristics of different indicators in the context of the local environment.