Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 13, Issue 6, pp 1012–1023 | Cite as

Effects of grazing on CO2 balance in a semiarid steppe: field observations and modeling

  • Xiaoming Kang
  • Yanbin Hao
  • Xiaoyong CuiEmail author
  • Huai Chen
  • Changsheng Li
  • Yichao Rui
  • Jianqing Tian
  • Paul Kardol
  • Lei Zhong
  • Jinzhi Wang
  • Yanfen WangEmail author



Carbon (C) dynamics in grassland ecosystem contributes to regional and global fluxes in carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations. Grazing is one of the main structuring factors in grassland, but the impact of grazing on the C budget is still under debate. In this study, in situ net ecosystem CO2 exchange (NEE) observations by the eddy covariance technique were integrated with a modified process-oriented biogeochemistry model (denitrification–decomposition) to investigate the impacts of grazing on the long-term C budget of semiarid grasslands.

Materials and methods

NEE measurements were conducted in two adjacent grassland sites, non-grazing (NG) and moderate grazing (MG), during 2006–2007. We then used daily weather data for 1978–2007 in conjunction with soil properties and grazing scenarios as model inputs to simulate grassland productivity and C dynamics. The observed and simulated CO2 fluxes under moderate grazing intensity were compared with those without grazing.

Results and discussion

NEE data from 2-year observations showed that moderate grazing significantly decreased grassland ecosystem CO2 release and shifted the ecosystem from a negative CO2 balance (releasing 34.00 g C m−2) at the NG site to a positive CO2 balance (absorbing −43.02 g C m−2) at the MG site. Supporting our experimental findings, the 30-year simulation also showed that moderate grazing significantly enhances the CO2 uptake potential of the targeted grassland, shifting the ecosystem from a negative CO2 balance (57.08 ± 16.45 g C m−2 year−1) without grazing to a positive CO2 balance (−28.58 ± 14.60 g C m−2 year−1) under moderate grazing. The positive effects of grazing on CO2 balance could primarily be attributed to an increase in productivity combined with a significant decrease of soil heterotrophic respiration and total ecosystem respiration.


We conclude that moderate grazing prevails over no-management practices in maintaining CO2 balance in semiarid grasslands, moderating and mitigating the negative effects of global climate change on the CO2 balance in grassland ecosystems.


Carbon budget DNDC Eddy covariance Grassland Grazing Soil heterotrophic respiration 



This study was supported by the National Science and technology support program of China (2012BAC19B04), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant no. 31170459 and no. 90711001), the Knowledge Innovation Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (KSCXZ-EW-J-29) and the research program “Climate Change: Carbon Budget and Relevant Issues” of Chinese Academy of Sciences (grant no. XDA05050402). We thank two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions on an earlier version of the manuscript. We also would like to thank Jianwu Tang for his help.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Xiaoming Kang
    • 1
  • Yanbin Hao
    • 1
  • Xiaoyong Cui
    • 1
    Email author
  • Huai Chen
    • 2
  • Changsheng Li
    • 3
  • Yichao Rui
    • 4
  • Jianqing Tian
    • 5
  • Paul Kardol
    • 6
  • Lei Zhong
    • 1
  • Jinzhi Wang
    • 7
  • Yanfen Wang
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.College of Life SciencesUniversity of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Chengdu Institute of BiologyChinese Academy of SciencesChengduChina
  3. 3.Institute for the Study of Earth, Ocean and SpaceUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA
  4. 4.Environmental Futures CentreGriffith UniversityBrisbaneAustralia
  5. 5.State Key Laboratory of Mycology, Institute of MicrobiologyChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  6. 6.Department of Forest Ecology and ManagementSwedish University of Agricultural SciencesUmeåSweden
  7. 7.Chinese Research Academy of Environmental SciencesBeijingPeople’s Republic of China

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