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Quantitative assessment of the contributions of climate change and human activities on global grassland degradation

Abstract

Grassland degradation received considerable concern because of its adverse impact on agronomic productivity and its capacity to provide goods and service. Climate change and human activities are commonly recognized as the two broad underlying drivers that lead to grassland degradation. In this study, a comprehensive method based on net primary productivity (NPP) was introduced to assess quantitatively the relative roles of climate change and human perturbations on worldwide grassland degradation from 2000 to 2010. The results revealed that at a global scale, 49.25 % of grassland ecosystems experienced degradation. Nearly 5 % of these grasslands experienced strong to extreme significant degradation. Climate change was the dominant cause that resulted in 45.51 % of degradation compared with 32.53 % caused by human activities. On the contrary, 39.40 % of grassland restoration was induced by human interferences, and 30.6 % was driven by climate change. The largest area of degradation and restoration both occurred in Asia. NPP losses ranged between 1.40 Tg C year−1 (in North America) and 13.61 Tg C year−1 (in Oceania) because of grassland degradation. Maximum NPP increase caused by restoration was 17.57 Tg C year−1 (in North America). Minimum NPP was estimated at 1.59 Tg C year−1 (in Europe). The roles of climate change and human activities on degradation and restoration were not consistent at continental level. Grassland ecosystems in the southern hemisphere were more vulnerable and sensitive to climate change. Therefore, climate change issues should be gradually integrated into future policies and plans for domestic grassland management and administration.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by the “The Key Project of Chinese National Programs for Fundamental Research and Development (973 Program, 2010CB950702)”, “APN Global Change Fund Project (APCR2013-16NMY-Li)”, “the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41271361)”, “The National High Technology Project (2007AA10Z231)” and the Public Sector Linkages Program supported by Australian Agency for International Development (PSLP: No. 64828). We also thank Prof. Jizhou Ren from Lanzhou University, Prof. Bing Liu from Leeds University, Prof. Jiyuan Liu and Guirui Yu from Institute of geographic sciences and natural resources research, Chinese Academy Science for his guidance on our method, Prof. Pavel Ya. Groisman from NOAA National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) for proof reading of our paper. We also appreciate the European commission, Global Land Cover Facility and NOAA for sharing datasets. All authors have no conflicts of interests.

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Correspondence to Jianlong Li.

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Gang, C., Zhou, W., Chen, Y. et al. Quantitative assessment of the contributions of climate change and human activities on global grassland degradation. Environ Earth Sci 72, 4273–4282 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12665-014-3322-6

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Keywords

  • Grassland degradation
  • Climate change
  • Human activities
  • Quantitative assessment
  • Potential NPP
  • Actual NPP