Chin J Plant Ecol ›› 2022, Vol. 46 ›› Issue (8): 941-950.DOI: 10.17521/cjpe.2022.0017

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Effects of different livestock types on plant diversity and community structure of a typical steppe in Nei Mongol, China

WANG Shu-Wen, LI Wen-Huai(), LI Yan-Long, YAN Hui, LI Yong-Hong   

  1. Ministry of Education Key Laboratory of Ecology and Resource Use of the Mongolian Plateau, Inner Mongolia Key Laboratory of Grassland Ecology, School of Ecology and Environment, Inner Mongolia University, Hohhot 010021, China
  • Received:2022-01-11 Accepted:2022-02-23 Online:2022-08-20 Published:2022-08-20
  • Contact: LI Wen-Huai ORCID:0000-0002-1113-2020 (
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(32071883);Science and Technology Major Project of Nei Mongol(2021ZD0011);China Scholarship Council(202006810005)


Aims Livestock grazing is one of the most important factors affecting grassland plant diversity. However, the information on the effects of different livestock types and their grazing behaviors on grassland plant diversity and community composition are less available. A better understanding of the changes in plant diversity and community composition in response to the grazing of various livestock types is essential to the management and preservation of grassland biodiversity.

Methods We conducted a grazing experiment in a typical steppe of Nei Mongol to examine the effects of different livestock species (cattle, goat, sheep) and their behaviors (forage selection and grazing aggregation) on plant diversity (i.e., α, β and γ diversity) and community composition.

Important findings Our results showed that: (1) cattle, goat, and sheep grazing all increased plant α, β, and γ diversity at moderate grazing intensity, and the increase was the largest and significant under cattle grazing. (2) Three livestock species all changed community structure; sheep grazing reduced the relative abundance of dominant short grass Cleistogenes squarrosa, which is in contrary to the changes in community structure induced by cattle and goat grazing. (3) Cattle and goat grazing significantly reduced the aboveground biomass of dominant species, including tall grasses Leymus chinensis and Stipa grandis and short grass C. squarrosa, while sheep grazing only decreased that of short grass C. squarrosa. Cattle grazing also had a lower spatial aggregation than that of goat and sheep. (4) Plant diversity decreased with the increase of the aboveground biomass of either tall or short dominant species, indicating that livestock grazing promoted plant species diversity by reducing plant aboveground biomass of dominant species. (5) Plant diversity decreased with the increase in spatial aggregation of livestock grazing, indicating a lower aggregation benefiting plant diversity maintenance. Overall, our study suggests that grazing animal types should be considered along with grazing intensity in the development of grazing management regime for better conservation and sustainable use of the grassland resources.

Key words: plant diversity, species composition, selective foraging, spatial aggregation, livestock tracking