ISSN : 2287-8327
Background: Climate and livestock grazing are key agents in determining current Mongolian steppe vegetation communities. Together with plant coverage or biomass, palatability of steppe community is regarded as a useful indicator of grassland degradation, in particular, at grazing hotspots in arid and semi-arid grasslands. This study analyzed relationships between livestock grazing pressure and steppe vegetation palatability at three summer pastures with different aridity (dry, xeric, and mesic) and livestock numbers (1,100, 1,800, and 4,100 sheep units, respectively). At each site, it was surveyed coverage, biomass, and species composition of different palatability groups (i.e., palatable [P], impalatable [IP], and trampling-tolerant [TT]) along a 1-km transect from grazing hotspots (i.e., well) in every July from 2015 to 2018. Results: In results, total vegetation coverage increased with wetness, 7 times greater at mesic site than dry one in averages (33.1% vs. 4.5%); biomass was 3 times higher (47.1 g m-2 vs. 15.7 g m-2). Though P was the dominant palatability group, the importance of IP in total coverage increased with aridity from mesic (0.6%) to dry (40.2%) sites. Whereas, TT increased with livestock numbers across sites. Locally, IP was observed more frequently near the wells and its spatial range of occurrence becomes farther along the transects with aridity across sites from mesic (< 100 m) to dry (< 700 m from the well). Conclusions: Our results showed that the importance of IP and its spatial distribution are different at both local and regional scales, indicating that the palatability parameters are sensitive to discern balance between selective-grazing demand and climate-driven foraging supply in Mongolian rangelands.