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Responses of subshrub sagebrush rangeland in North-Western China to changes in livestock numbers and rainfall over 10 years (2004–2013)

Zhao, W. Y., Li, Z., Yin, H., Wang, Y.
Arid land research and management 2019 v.33 no.2 pp. 212-233
Artemisia, arid lands, drought, herd size, livestock, mountains, overgrazing, phytomass, rain, rangelands, surveys, vegetation, China
Seriphidium transiliense, or subshrub sagebrush, is one of the most important forage resources for livestock in many arid lands, but such resources have been threatened by overgrazing for a long time. A 2013 vegetation survey of an original sagebrush rangeland (2400 ha) in the Tianshan Mountains revealed that nearly half of the area once under sagebrush has been replaced by annual species. This is due to the continual and rapid increase in livestock numbers over the past 30 years. Three smaller sites with different grazing scenarios: no grazing (Site N), a decline (Site 1), and an increase (Site 2) in livestock numbers, were selected to monitor recent changes (from 2004 to 2013) in vegetation biomass and the degree of dominance by sagebrush. Supplanting happened at Site 2 but little occurred at Site 1. There were significant differences between Site 2 and Site 1 in standing biomass in Spring and Summer, but no significant differences in Summer between Site 1 and Site N. The supplanting of sagebrush marks the completion of a dynamic process – in which rainfall plays a crucial role – of damage to sagebrush from heavy grazing in drought years and its rehabilitation by light grazing in some good years. Plant biomass loss was greatest when the land was first subjected to heavy grazing. Sagebrush tends to exist as a sole-dominant species rather than a companion species in sagebrush communities. This suggests that sagebrush continued to survive in pockets where grazing pressure had declined.