Plant and Soil

, Volume 340, Issue 1–2, pp 215–226 | Cite as

Effects of grazing management system on plant community structure and functioning in a semiarid steppe: scaling from species to community

  • Hongwei WanEmail author
  • Yongfei Bai
  • Philipp Schönbach
  • Martin Gierus
  • Friedhelm Taube
Regular Article


Under the aim of searching for a more sustainable grazing management system, a mixed management system (grazing and haymaking alternate annually) was proposed and tested against traditional management system (used consistently either for grazing or haymaking) in the semiarid grassland of Inner Mongolia with a field manipulation experiment. The responses of aboveground biomass to the two grazing management systems were examined across different levels of organization (i.e., species, plant functional group, and community) and in five consecutive years from 2005 to 2009. The effects of the two systems on seed production potential of four dominant species (Leymus chinensis, Stipa grandis, Agropyron cristatum, Cleistogenes squarrosa) were also investigated. Our results demonstrate that, in the traditional system, aboveground biomass production across all the levels of organization was reduced by grazing. In mixed system, however, no significantly negative relationship between the biomass response and stocking rate was detected at all organization levels. Precipitation fluctuation had strong influence on biomass responses, and compared to the traditional system the slope of the biomass-precipitation relationship tends to be higher in the mixed system. This effect might be attributed to the more positive response of L. chinensis and A. cristatum to increase in precipitation. In the traditional system, both the ratio and the density of reproductive tillers of the grazing subplots were significantly reduced compared to the haymaking or ungrazed control plots. In the mixed system, there was no significant difference between the haymaking subplots and the ungrazed control plots, regardless of the grazing pressures imposed on the haymaking subplots in the previous growing season. Our findings suggest that the mixed system mitigates the sheep grazing-induced species shift and it tends to be more responsive to increasing precipitation as compared to the traditional system. Therefore, replacement of the traditional grazing strategy with the mixed system could provide an important contribution to sustainable land-use of the Inner Mongolia grasslands.


Aboveground biomass Grazing management Haymaking Mixed system Reproduction Semiarid grassland Stocking rate Sustainability Traditional system 



Aboveground biomass


Annuals and biennials


Intact reproductive tiller


Perennial bunchgrasses


Perennial forbs


Perennial rhizomes


Relative aboveground biomass



We acknowledge the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) for funding the research group 536 MAGIM (Matter fluxes of grasslands in Inner Mongolia as influenced by stocking rate) project. This research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (30825008 and 30770370). We also appreciate the Inner Mongolia Grassland Ecosystem Research Station (IMGERS) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences for providing lab and field facilities, accommodation, and precious long term climatic dataset.

Supplementary material

11104_2010_661_MOESM1_ESM.doc (226 kb)
Supplementary Figure S1 Layout of the grazing experiment in 2005. (DOC 226 kb)
11104_2010_661_MOESM2_ESM.doc (226 kb)
Supplementary Figure S2 Layout of the grazing experiment in 2006. (DOC 226 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hongwei Wan
    • 1
    Email author
  • Yongfei Bai
    • 2
  • Philipp Schönbach
    • 1
  • Martin Gierus
    • 1
  • Friedhelm Taube
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Crop Science and Plant Breeding - Grass and Forage Science/Organic AgricultureChristian-Albrechts-UniversityKielGermany
  2. 2.State Key Laboratory of Vegetation and Environmental Change, Institute of BotanyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

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