Temperate grasslands, including those of northern Eurasia, are among the most imperiled ecosystems on Earth. Eighty percent of Mongolia's land area is rangeland, where interacting climate, land-use and changes in governance threaten the sustainability of Mongolia's rangelands and pastoral culture. Particularly concerning are the potential ecological impacts of changing pastoral grazing practices—namely declining use of grazing reserves and pastoral mobility. However, like other grazing practices globally, there have been no empirical studies to evaluate the effects of specific Mongolian grazing practices on ecological function at a management scale. We collected data on the grazing practices of 130 pastoral households across four ecological zones and sampled ecological conditions in their winter pastures. We used a novel social-ecological analysis process to (1) develop integrated, holistic indicators of ecological function using exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis, and (2) assess the effects of individual grazing practices on these indicators using statistical matching to control for confounding management and contextual factors. We identified two latent factors related to ecological and pastoral resilience: Factor 1 represents resource retention and soil stability and Factor 2 represents species richness and functional diversity. Using these two factors as response variables, we found that the values of both resilience factors were higher in pastures where households made fall or winter otor migrations or set aside grazing reserves. This study provides the first management-scale empirical test of the ecological response to specific grazing practices in Mongolia, using an approach that can be applied in other rangeland systems. Our findings highlight the importance to ecological and pastoral resilience of supporting traditional pastoral practices of mobility and grazing reserves, while also controlling stocking densities, increasing rangeland monitoring, and ensuring equitable access to state-designated emergency grazing reserves at local, regional, and national levels.
Read the full article in Environmental Research Letters.