Overgrazing has extensively degraded Chinese grasslands. A reduction in stocking rate of 30-50% below the district averages is required to increase the profitability of livestock production and protect vital ecosystem services such as mitigation of greenhouse gases (GHG). Grazing experiments located in the desert steppe, typical steppe and alpine meadow verified the influence of stocking rate and grazing management on livestock production, grassland composition and associated ecosystem services. The desert steppe experiment found lower stocking rates of ∼150 SE (where SE is sheep equivalent, which is a 50 kg animal) grazing days ha-1 (1 SE ha-1 over 150 days) enhanced botanical composition, maintained profitable lamb growth rates and reduced GHG emissions intensity. The typical steppe experiment found moderate grazing pressure of ∼400 SE grazing days ha-1 (4 SE ha-1 over 100 days) maintained higher lamb growth rates, an average herbage mass >0.5 t DM ha-1 that maintained the content of Leymus chinensis above 70% and Artemisia frigida below 10% of the grassland and had the highest level of net carbon sequestration. In the alpine meadow experiment the district average stocking rate of ∼16 SE ha-1 (1440 SE grazing days ha-1 over 90 days) was not too high, but extending grazing into the non-growing season had no benefit. The findings of these experiments highlight that many of the benefits to ecosystem services can be achieved with reduced stocking rates which also generate profitable levels of livestock production. In both the desert and typical steppe experiments, the results were optimal when the stocking rates were adjusted to maintain average herbage mass over summer above ∼0.5 t DM ha-1, whereas herbage mass was higher with the local, conservative stocking rates in the alpine meadow.
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Impact: Environmental Impact, Economic Impact, Social Impact