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Quantifying the effects of overgrazing on mountainous watershed vegetation dynamics under a changing climate

Formally Refereed
Authors: Lu Hao, Cen Pan, Di Fang, Xiaoyu Zhang, Decheng Zhou, Peilong Liu, Yongqiang Liu, Ge Sun
Year: 2018
Type: Scientific Journal
Station: Southern Research Station
Source: Science of The Total Environment


Grazing is a major ecosystem disturbance in arid regions that are increasingly threatened by climate change. Understanding the long-term impacts of grazing on rangeland vegetation dynamics in a complex terrain in mountainous regions is important for quantifying dry land ecosystem services for integrated watershed management and climate change adaptation. However, data on the detailed long-termspatial distribution of grazing activities are rare,which prevents trend detection and environmental impact assessments of grazing. This study quantified the impacts of grazing on vegetation dynamics for the period of 1983–2010 in the Upper Heihe River basin, a complexmultiple-usewatershed in northwestern China.We also examined the relative contributions of grazing and climate to vegetation change using a dynamic grazing pressure method. Spatial grazing patterns and temporal dynamics were mapped at a 1 km × 1 km pixel scale using satellite-derived leaf area index (LAI) data. We found that overgrazing was a dominant driver for LAI reduction in alpine grasslands and shrubs, especially for the periods of 1985–1991 and 1997–2004. Although the recent decade-long active grazing management contributed to the improvement of LAI and partially offset the negative effects of increased livestock, overgrazing has posed significant challenges to shrub-grassland ecosystem recovery in the eastern part of the study basin. We conclude that the positive effects of a warming and wetting climate on vegetation could be underestimated if the negative long-term grazing effects are not considered. Findings from the present case study show that assessing long-term climate change impacts on watersheds must include the influences of human activities. Our study provides important guidance for ecological restoration efforts in locating vulnerable areas and designing effective management practices in the study watershed. Such information is essential for natural resource management that aims at meeting multiple demands of watershed ecosystem services in arid and semiarid rangelands


Vegetation dynamics, Leaf area index, Grazing pressure, Climate change detection, Mountainous watershed management


Hao, Lu; Pan, Cen; Fang, Di; Zhang, Xiaoyu; Zhou, Decheng; Liu, Peilong; Liu, Yongqiang; Sun, Ge. 2018. Quantifying the effects of overgrazing on mountainous watershed vegetation dynamics under a changing climate. Science of The Total Environment. 639: 1408-1420.