Grassland degradation has profound negative impacts on ecological functions, local economic development, and social stability. Although there are many studies on the alpine grassland degradation in the Tibetan Plateau, the variation in the response of alpine meadows to degradation and restoration processes, and the underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood. To explore these issues, we selected nine grassland degradation levels along an increasing gradient at Zoige in the Tibetan Plateau, and collected vegetation and soil samples in August 2017 and 2018 to assess the state of the grassland before and after grazing exclusion (GE), respectively. The results showed that above-ground biomass (AGB), below-ground biomass (BGB), Shannon–Wiener index, soil water content (SWC), soil organic carbon (SOC), total nitrogen (STN), and total phosphorus decreased gradually with severe degrees of degradation, whereas soil bulk density and pH increased. SWC in the topsoil presented the sharpest change in slope along the degradation gradient, indicating that SWC was a sensitive indicator of alpine meadow degradation in this area. One-year GE evidently increased SWC, SOC, STN, AGB, and BGB in lightly and moderately degraded grasslands. The restoration efficiency of GE first increased and then decreased along the degradation gradient, with the turning point appearing at the third or fourth degradation level. Based on these results, we can conclude that short-term GE is an effective method for grassland restoration in this humid area, and should be performed at the shift from light to moderate degradation stages when the efficiency of recovery is the highest. These findings could facilitate a better approach for the restoration of degraded alpine meadow ecosystems.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Decision Sciences(all)
- Alpine meadow
- Grazing exclusion
- Turning point
- Zoige Plateau