Effects of grazing exclusion on soil carbon and nitrogen storage in semi-arid grassland in Inner Mongolia, China
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- Wu, X., Li, Z., Fu, B. et al. Chin. Geogr. Sci. (2014) 24: 479. doi:10.1007/s11769-014-0694-1
The semi-arid grasslands in Inner Mongolia, China have been degraded by long-term grazing. A series of ecological restoration strategies have been implemented to improve grassland service. However, little is known about the effect of these ecological restoration practices on soil carbon and nitrogen storage. In this study, characteristics of vegetation and soil properties under continued grazing and exclusion of livestock for six years due to a nationwide conservation program—‘Returning Grazing Lands to Grasslands (RGLG)’ were examined in semi-arid Hulun Buir grassland in Inner Mongolia, China. The results show that removal of grazing for six years resulted in a significant recovery in vegetation with higher above and below-ground biomass, but a lower soil bulk density and pH value. After six years of grazing exclusion, soil organic C and total N storage increased by 13.9% and 17.1%, respectively, which could be partly explained by decreased loss and increased input of C and N to soil. The effects of grazing exclusion on soil C and N concentration and storage primarily occurred in the upper soil depths. The results indicate that removal of grazing pressure within the RGLG program was an effective restoration approach to control grassland degradation in this region. However, more comprehensive studies are needed to evaluate the effectiveness of the RGLG program and to improve the management strategies for grassland restoration in this area.