Grazing exclusion to recover degraded alpine pastures needs scientific assessments across the Northern Tibetan Plateau

Yu, C et al. | Sustainability | 2016 | Peer Reviewed | Original research |


The northern Tibetan Plateau is the most traditional and important semi-nomadic region in Tibet. The alpine vegetation is sensitive and vulnerable to climate change and human activities, and is also important as an ecological security in protecting the headwaters of major rivers in Asia. Therefore, the Tibetan alpine grasslands have fundamental significance to both Mainland China and South Asia. The pasture degradation, however, likely threatens the livelihood of residents and the habitats of wildlife on this plateau. Since 2004, the government has launched a series of ecological restoration projects and economic compensatory payment polices. Many fences were additionally built on degraded pastures to prevent new degradation, to promote functionality recovery, and to balance the stocking rate with forage productivity. The grazed vs. fenced paired pastures across different zonal grassland communities along evident environmental gradients provide us with a natural comparative experiment platform to test the relative contributions of natural and anthropogenic factors. This study critically reviews the background, significance of and debates on short-term grazing exclusion with fences in this region. We also aim to figure out scientific and standardized workflows for assessing the effectiveness of grazing exclusion and compensatory payments in the future.