Interactive effects of wind speed, vegetation coverage and soil moisture in controlling wind erosion in a temperate desert steppe, Inner Mongolia of China

Abstract

The rapid desertification of grasslands in Inner Mongolia of China poses a significant ecological threaten to northern China. The combined effects of anthropogenic disturbances (e.g., overgrazing) and biophysical processes (e.g., soil erosion) have led to vegetation degradation and the consequent acceleration of regional desertification. Thus, mitigating the accelerated wind erosion, a cause and effect of grassland desertification, is critical for the sustainable management of grasslands. Here, a combination of mobile wind tunnel experiments and wind erosion model was used to explore the effects of different levels of vegetation coverage, soil moisture and wind speed on wind erosion at different positions of a slope inside an enclosed desert steppe in the Xilamuren grassland of Inner Mongolia. The results indicated a significant spatial difference in wind erosion intensities depending on the vegetation coverage, with a strong decreasing trend from the top to the base of the slope. Increasing vegetation coverage resulted in a rapid decrease in wind erosion as explained by a power function correlation. Vegetation coverage was found to be a dominant control on wind erosion by increasing the surface roughness and by lowering the threshold wind velocity for erosion. The critical vegetation coverage required for effectively controlling wind erosion was found to be higher than 60%. Further, the wind erosion rates were negatively correlated with surface soil moisture and the mass flux in aeolian sand transport increased with increasing wind speed. We developed a mathematical model of wind erosion based on the results of an orthogonal array design. The results from the model simulation indicated that the standardized regression coefficients of the main effects of the three factors (vegetation coverage, soil moisture and wind speed) on the mass flux in aeolian sand transport were in the following order: wind speed>vegetation coverage>soil moisture. These three factors had different levels of interactive effects on the mass flux in aeolian sand transport. Our results will improve the understanding of the interactive effects of wind speed, vegetation coverage and soil moisture in controlling wind erosion in desert steppes, and will be helpful for the design of desertification control programs in future.

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Acknowledgements

This study was supported by the National Natural Science of Foundation of China (51769019) and the Excellent Youth Foundation of Inner Mongolia Agricultural University (2014XYQ-8).

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Correspondence to Yong Gao.

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Meng, Z., Dang, X., Gao, Y. et al. Interactive effects of wind speed, vegetation coverage and soil moisture in controlling wind erosion in a temperate desert steppe, Inner Mongolia of China. J. Arid Land 10, 534–547 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40333-018-0059-1

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Keywords

  • desert steppe
  • wind erosion
  • desertification
  • aeolian process
  • sand transport
  • Xilamuren grassland