Journal of Mountain Science

, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 658–667 | Cite as

Degradation of wetlands on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau: A comparison of the effectiveness of three indicators

  • Jay GaoEmail author
  • Xi-lai Li
  • Alan Cheung
  • Yuan-wu Yang
Open Access


The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau encompasses a large quantity of wetlands, some of which have been degraded to varying severity levels. In the literature, a number of degradation indicators have been proposed to evaluate ecological health of wetlands, but their effectiveness in the plateau environment remains unknown. In this study, we assessed the effectiveness of three degradation indicators, soil moisture content at 10 cm deep, vegetative cover, and density of pika burrows. The degradation severity of wetlands in Maduo County on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is enumerated at four levels, intact, slight, moderate and severe. Analysis of 106 samples collected in the field demonstrates that the density of pika burrows is the least reliable indicator. By comparison, vegetative cover and underlying soil moisture content are more reliable, even though neither is a perfect indicator as the difference among adjacent levels of severity as revealed by t-test is not always statistically significant. The imperfection of vegetative cover as an indicator is due to its variation among different types of wetlands. The limitation of moisture content is attributed to its non-linear relationship with wetland degradation. Above the threshold of about 50% in moisture content wetlands are unlikely to be degraded. It is recommended that moisture be measured at the point near the surface and vegetative cover be further differentiated by species in order to improve their effectiveness.


Wetland degradation Grass cover Soil moisture Pika damage Qinghai-Tibet Plateau 


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Copyright information

© Science Press, Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, CAS and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EnvironmentUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  2. 2.College of Agriculture and Animal HusbandryQinghai UniversityXiningChina

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