Overgrazing depresses soil carbon stock through changing plant diversity in temperate grassland of the Loess Plateau
This study mainly estimates the effect of grazing on plant diversity and soil storages on the northern Loess Plateau of China. Four grazing intensities of ungrazed (UG), light (LG), moderate (MG), and heavy (HG) grassland were selected according to the vegetation utilization across the study area, in which plant diversity, heights, above- and belowground biomass, and soil carbon (C) stock were investigated. The results showed that overgrazing negatively affected plant growth and soil C stock. Plant cover, height, litter, above- and belowground productivity, as well as soil C stock significantly decreased with the increasing grazing intensity. Meanwhile, the UG and LG had higher grasses biomass together with lower forbs (P < 0.01) compared with MG and HG. The abundance of dominating grasses species, such as Stipa bungeana and S. grandis were decreased through long-term grazing as grasses species are palatable for herbivores, and the dominating forbs species, such as Artemisia capillaries and Thymus mongolicus were significantly increased with increasing grazing intensities. The results indicated that grazing exclusion or light grazing had positive effects on the sustainable development of grassland ecosystems. Therefore, a balanced use and a long-term efficient management of grasslands were better measures to counteract their local degradations.
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