Asian Grasslands May Hold Global Promise
By Ann Perry
December 5, 2008
Grazinglands in the Asian steppes
and the rangelands in the western United States share similar climates,
vegetation, land-use practices and problems. So an
Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
scientist joined a search in Asia to find and preserve native forage
plantsand to see if these plants can be used to sustain and restore arid
grasslands in other parts of the world.
ARS plant physiologist
Johnson is part of an international collaboration that has been collecting
the seeds of rangeland plant species for more than a decade in Mongolia and
Chinas Inner Mongolia. Pastoral livestock and native herbivores in this
region graze year-round on natural pastures of grasses and legumes.
These forages have evolved over thousands of years under sustained grazing
pressures, extreme heat and cold, droughts and saline soils. But overgrazing,
increased soil erosion and weed infestations now threaten the diversity of this
Johnson works at the ARS
and Range Research Laboratory in Logan, Utah. From 1994 to 1998, he and
other researchers from Mongolia and China logged approximately 13,000 miles in
Mongolia to maximize their search for native forage plant species.
The payoff for their efforts came in the collection of 1,373 plants,
including 323 different genera and 581 species. Subsequent field evaluations in
Mongolia identified the most promising plants for revegetating abandoned
croplands and restoring post-mining landscapes and abandoned urban areas.
In 2006, the collectors also sent 123 collections of seeds from Chinas
Inner Mongolia to the United States. These seeds are now part of the
U.S. National Plant Germplasm
System, which contains approximately 509,000 plant accessions from around
the world. The Asian seed collections will provide valuable material to U.S.
forage breeding programs that are improving forage species and reduced-input
This work will complement Johnsons previous contributions involving
the collection, evaluation, and release of novel and economically important
forage cultivars. These forages are widely used by farmers, ranchers and land
managers in the semi-arid western United States to increase production
efficiency and conserve natural resources.
ARS is a scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.