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An early warning signal for grassland degradation on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau

October 12, 2023

Intense grazing may lead to grassland degradation on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, but it is difficult to predict where this will occur and to quantify it. Based on a process-based ecosystem model, we define a productivity-based stocking rate threshold that induces extreme grassland degradation to assess whether and where the current grazing activity in the region is sustainable. We find that the current stocking rate is below the threshold in ~80% of grassland areas, but in 55% of these grasslands the stocking rate exceeds half the threshold. According to our model projections, positive effects of climate change including elevated CO2 can partly offset negative effects of grazing across nearly 70% of grasslands on the Plateau, but only in areas below the stocking rate threshold. Our analysis suggests that stocking rate that does not exceed 60% (within 50% to 70%) of the threshold may balance human demands with grassland protection in the face of climate change.

Publication Year 2023
Title An early warning signal for grassland degradation on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau
DOI 10.1038/s41467-023-42099-4
Authors Qiuan Zhu, Huai Chen, Changhui Peng, Jinxun Liu, Shilong Piao, Jin-Sheng He, Shiping Wang, Xinquan Zhao, Jiang Zhang, Xiuqin Fang, Jiaxin Jin, Qi-En Yang, Liliang Ren, Yanfen Wang
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Nature Communications
Index ID 70249676
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Geographic Science Center