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Grassland responses to grazing disturbance: plant diversity changes with grazing intensity in a desert steppe

Authors

  • L. Deng,

    1. State Key Laboratory of Soil Erosion and Dryland Farming on the Loess Plateau, Northwest A&F University, Yangling, China
    2. College of Forestry, Northwest A&F University, Yangling, China
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  • S. Sweeney,

    1. Institute of Environmental Sciences, University of the Bosphorus, Istanbul, Turkey
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  • Z.-P. Shangguan

    Corresponding author
    1. State Key Laboratory of Soil Erosion and Dryland Farming on the Loess Plateau, Northwest A&F University, Yangling, China
    • Correspondence to: Z.-P. Shangguan, State Key Laboratory of Soil Erosion and Dryland Farming on the Loess Plateau, Northwest A&F University, Yangling, Shaanxi 712100, China.

      E-mail: shangguan@ms.iswc.ac.cn

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Abstract

This study quantifies the impact of four different grazing regimes (heavy, moderate, light and ungrazed) on the vegetation dynamics of rangeland ecosystems along the southern boundary area of the Mu Us Desert, China. As the grazing intensities decreased, the soil quality, canopy cover, height, density, above- and below-ground biomass, litter, root/shoot ratio and native plant (Aneurolepidium dasystachys) and grass abundances significantly increased; the above-ground biomass of grasses increased, but the above-ground biomass of forbs decreased. Ungrazed grassland has significantly improved from grasslands experiencing three other levels of grazing pressure, especially in the grassland biomass. Species richness increased as the grazing intensity decreased in the grazing grasslands, but peak species richness appeared under moderate and light grazing against lower productivity. Grazing exclusion causes desirable transitions in plant communities of desert steppe rangelands. Therefore, appropriate and efficient grazing exclusion is an available way to counteract local grassland degradation and promote rangeland sustainability.

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