Plant and Soil

, Volume 340, Issue 1–2, pp 103–115 | Cite as

Grassland responses to grazing: effects of grazing intensity and management system in an Inner Mongolian steppe ecosystem

  • Philipp SchönbachEmail author
  • Hongwei Wan
  • Martin Gierus
  • Yongfei Bai
  • Katrin Müller
  • Lijun Lin
  • Andreas Susenbeth
  • Friedhelm Taube
Regular Article


The major aims of this study were, firstly, to analyse the grazing-induced steppe degradation process and, secondly, to identify an efficient and sustainable grazing management system for the widely degraded Inner Mongolian typical steppe ecosystem. From 2005–2008 a grazing experiment was conducted to compare two grazing management systems, the Mixed System (MS) and the Traditional System (TS), along a gradient of seven grazing intensities, i.e. ungrazed (GI0), very-light (GI1), light (GI2), light-moderate (GI3), moderate (GI4), heavy (GI5), and very-heavy (GI6). Each grazing intensity treatment was considered a production unit comprising two adjacent plots, one for hay-making (single-cut system) and one for grazing. Hay-making and grazing alternated annually in the MS, while in the TS the same plots were used either for hay-making or for grazing. Effects of management system, grazing intensity, and year on end-of-season standing biomass (ESSB), aboveground net primary production (ANPP), relative difference in ANPP between 2005 and 2008 (ANPPDiff), relative growth rate (RGR), and sward characteristics (litter accumulation, soil coverage) were analysed. Litter accumulation of production units was affected by grazing intensity (P < 0.001) and decreased from GI0 to GI6 by 83%. Correspondingly, soil coverage decreased (P < 0.001) from GI0 to GI6 by 43%, indicating an increased vulnerability to soil erosion. We found varying compensatory growth responses to grazing intensity among years, probably because of temporal variability in precipitation. The ability of plants to partially compensate for grazing damage was enhanced in years of greater seasonal precipitation. The ANPP of production units was negatively affected by grazing intensity and decreased from GI0 to GI6 by 37, 30, and 55% in 2006 (P < 0.01), 2007 (P < 0.05), and 2008 (P < 0.001), respectively. The effect of management system × grazing intensity interaction on ANPP (P < 0.05) and ANPPDiff (P < 0.05) suggested greater grazing resilience of the MS as compared to the TS at GI3 to GI6.


Aboveground net primary production Degradation Leymus chinensis Relative growth rate Semiarid grassland Sheep grazing Stipa grandis Typical steppe 



Aboveground net primary production




Dry matter


End-of-season standing biomass


Grazing intensity


Management system


Mixed System


Relative growth rate


Target range


Traditional System





The authors would like to acknowledge the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) for funding the research group 536 MAGIM (Matter fluxes of grasslands in Inner Mongolia as influenced by stocking rate). The authors are also grateful to the IMGERS (Inner Mongolia Grassland Ecosystem Research Station) for the technical support and provision of infrastructure, to Yuandi Zhu for organisation, as well as to the numerous trained local operators as they enabled the enormous data collection by untiring efforts.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philipp Schönbach
    • 1
    Email author
  • Hongwei Wan
    • 1
  • Martin Gierus
    • 1
  • Yongfei Bai
    • 2
  • Katrin Müller
    • 3
  • Lijun Lin
    • 3
  • Andreas Susenbeth
    • 3
  • Friedhelm Taube
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Crop Science and Plant Breeding—Grass and Forage Science/Organic AgricultureChristian-Albrechts-UniversityKielGermany
  2. 2.Institute of BotanyThe Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.Institute of Animal Nutrition and PhysiologyChristian-Albrechts-UniversityKielGermany

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