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ARS Home » Plains Area » Las Cruces, New Mexico » Range Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #357753

Title: Grazing reduces the temporal stability of temperate grasslands in northern China

item QIN, JIE - Inner Mongolian Agriculture University
item REN, HAIYAN - Inner Mongolian Agriculture University
item HAN, GUODONT - Inner Mongolian Agriculture University
item ZHANG, JUN - Inner Mongolian Agriculture University
item Browning, Dawn
item WILLMS, WALTER - Agriculture And Agri-Food Canada
item YANG, DIANLIN - Agro-Environmental Protection Institute

Submitted to: FLORA
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/6/2019
Publication Date: 9/17/2019
Citation: Qin, J., Ren, H., Han, G., Zhang, J., Browning, D.M., Willms, W., Yang, D. 2019. Grazing reduces the temporal stability of temperate grasslands in northern China. Flora. 259:151450.

Interpretive Summary: Livestock grazing is the most widespread land use in arid and semiarid ecosystems worldwide. It is key to understand the points in time and space at which production is maximized and ecosystem function is (ideally) enhanced or (minimally) maintained. In water-limited grassland systems, herbaceous production and plant biodiversity are two common indicators for monitoring the sustainability of livestock production. This study conducted in the Inner Mongolia demonstrated the importance of community-level stability and contributions of plant functional groups (e.g., annual versus perennial grasses) to developing adaptive grazing strategies over estimates of herbaceous production alone. The results offer evidence to pastoralists in arid and semiarid rangeland systems worldwide.

Technical Abstract: Grazing activity can profoundly influence grassland plant community structure and ecosystem functions. However, our understanding of the effects of livestock grazing on ecological stability across different grassland types remains limited. Based on a 5-year investigation along a precipitation gradient (180mm in desert steppe, 282mm in typical steppe and 375mm in meadow steppe) in temperate grasslands of Inner Mongolia, we examined the responses of the temporal stability of plant community aboveground biomass to grazing intensity at three levels (light grazing, moderate grazing and heavy grazing). We found that grazing intensity at all levels reduced biomass temporal stability across all types of grasslands. Heavy grazing intensity reduced community biomass, species richness and species asynchrony. Structural equation modeling further revealed that grazing decreased community stability mainly by decreasing species asynchrony. In addition, community-level stability was driven by grass species stability in the meadow steppe, but it was affected by the stability of forb species in the desert steppe. These findings suggest that grazing practices may alter the stability properties of grassland plant communities, highlighting the importance of understanding changes in different plant functional groups for predicting community dynamics under grazing management.