Shrub encroachment in China: Bridging the knowledge gap

Authors: Stefani Daryanto*, Beijing Normal University, Bojie Fu, Beijing Normal University, Wenwu Zhao, Beijing Normal Univeristy, Shuai Wang, Beijing Normal University, Lixin Wang, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis, Huizen Mao, Beijing Normal University
Topics: Arid Regions, Environmental Science, Land Use
Keywords: arid, dryland, grassland, grazing, pastoralist, semi-arid, sustainability
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 2:00 PM / 3:40 PM
Room: Cleveland 2, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Proliferation of woody species in drylands is considered a global phenomenon, affecting the life of millions of people whose livelihoods depend on grazing. Yet our understanding about similar phenomenon in China remains elusive, although it has ±493 million hectares (ha) of drylands. Using Chinese and English databases, we aim to uncover the extent, distribution, and changes in ecosystem structure and functions that arise with shrub encroachment in China, including its management. Our results showed that numerous provinces (e.g., Ningxia, Shanxi, Shaanxi) and autonomous regions (e.g., Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet) in China have been encroached by different shrub species. The dominant encroacher comes from the family of Fabaceae, which include numerous native nitrogen-fixing species, in addition to many other non-nitrogen fixing species. Unlike other world’s regions, however, large-scale, indiscriminate shrub removal practices such as those using fire, ploughing or herbicide were absent, possibly because Chinese pastoralists have found multiple socio-economic values associated with shrubs. Reduction in grass productivity could be offset by using fermented shrubs as fodder, and the small-scale practice of utilizing shrubs prevents the declines in ecosystem functioning associated with indiscriminative nature of large scale shrub removal. Contrasting with the common perception that shrubs are associated with ecosystem degradation, shrubs in China have been used to restore degraded lands. Research on the economic values of shrubs (i.e., to diversify income sources other than grazing) could lead towards a solution for a more sustainable rangeland-use at a global scale, particularly with increasing consideration towards other ecosystem services from shrub-encroached lands.

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