Applying a dryland degradation framework for rangelands: the case of Mongolia

Ecological Applications
Jamsranjav, C.; Reid, R.S.; Fernandez-Gimenez, M.E.; Tsevlee, A.; Yadamsuren, B.; Heiner, M.
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Volume / Issue28/3
Total Pages20 pages
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Tagsdegradation framework; degradation indicators; livestock; livestock-use gradient; rangeland heterogeneity; resilience-based management
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Publication DateMarch 06, 2018
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AbstractLivestock‐caused rangeland degradation remains a major policy concern globally and the subject of widespread scientific study. This concern persists in part because it is difficult to isolate the effects of livestock from climate and other factors that influence ecosystem conditions. Further, degradation studies seldom use multiple plant and soil indicators linked to a clear definition of and ecologically grounded framework for degradation assessment that distinguishes different levels of degradation. Here, we integrate two globally applicable rangeland degradation frameworks and apply them to a broad‐scale empirical data set for the country of Mongolia. We compare our assessment results with two other recent national rangeland degradation assessments in Mongolia to gauge consistency of findings across assessments and evaluate the utility of our framework. We measured livestock‐use impacts across Mongolia's major ecological zones: mountain and forest steppe, eastern steppe, steppe, and desert steppe. At 143 sites in 36 counties, we measured livestock‐use and degradation indicators at increasing distances from livestock corrals in winter‐grazed pastures. At each site, we measured multiple indicators linked to our degradation framework, including plant cover, standing biomass, palatability, species richness, forage quality, vegetation gaps, and soil surface characteristics. Livestock use had no effect on soils, plant species richness, or standing crop biomass in any ecological zone, but subtly affected plant cover and palatable plant abundance. Livestock effects were strongest in the steppe zone, moderate in the desert steppe, and limited in the mountain/forest and eastern steppes. Our results aligned closely with those of two other recent country‐wide assessments, suggesting that our framework may have widespread application. All three assessments found that very severe and irreversible degradation is rare in Mongolia (1–18% of land area), with most rangelands slightly (33–53%) or moderately (25–40%) degraded. We conclude that very severe livestock‐induced rangeland degradation is overstated in Mongolia. However, targeted rangeland restoration coupled with monitoring, adaptive management and stronger rangeland governance are needed to prevent further degradation where heavy grazing could cause irreversible change. Given the broad applicability of our degradation framework for Mongolia, we suggest it be tested for application in other temperate grasslands throughout Central Asia and North America.
Created: 12/21/2018 4:06 PM (ET)
Modified: 12/21/2018 4:06 PM (ET)
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