Effects of grazing and enclosure management on soil physical and chemical properties vary with aridity in China's drylands

Wenxin Zhou, Changjia Li*, Shuai Wang, Zhuobing Ren, Lindsay C. Stringer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Dryland soils are nutrient-poor and prone to degradation due to aridity, grazing and enclosure. It is essential to examine the effects of grazing and enclosure on aridity-induced soil degradation in dryland ecosystems to optimize land management practices in response to climate change. However, quantitative evaluation on this topic is scarce due to a lack of long-term field monitoring data. This study evaluated the combined effects of aridity and grazing/enclosure using long-term data (2005–2015) from three research stations on soil physical and chemical properties in typical steppes and desert steppes across the semi-arid and hyper-arid areas of China's drylands. Results showed that soil organic matter (OM) content was higher for enclosures (20.50 g/kg) than for grazing (19.06 g/kg). In the semi-arid steppe, enclosures aged 30–33 years had the highest soil total nitrogen (TN) content (1.21 g/kg). Longer enclosures aged 34–36 years showed decreased soil TN content (0.88 g/kg). In the desert steppe, enclosures aged 5–8 years exhibited the highest soil OM (2.44 g/kg) and TN (0.21 g/kg) contents. Grazing enhanced the decrease of OM content (from 4.57 to 2.39 g/kg) with increasing aridity (1 − aridity index) from 0.35 to 1. These findings indicate that enclosures can improve soil fertility, but prolonged enclosures may have negative effects. Grazing had a synergistic effect on the decrease of OM with aridity. Results can be used in response to climate changes to formulate sustainable land management strategies, such as reducing the enclosure period in wetter and restored areas, and diminishing the grazing intensity in areas with higher aridity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number162946
Number of pages16
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date22 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research is jointly funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China Project (grants 41991235 , 42007052 ), and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities .

© 2023 Elsevier B.V. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy.


  • Desert steppe
  • Fence off
  • Land use
  • Rangeland
  • Semi-arid steppe
  • Soil characteristic

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