Characteristics of Desertification and Short-Term Effectiveness of Differing Treatments on Shifting Sand Dune Stabilization in an Alpine Rangeland


Xiao Feng 1,2, Jianjun Qu 1,3,*, Qingbin Fan 1,2, Lihai Tan 1 and Zhishan An 1

  1. Dunhuang Gobi and Desert Research Station, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou 730000, China;
  2. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  3. Breeding Base for State Key Laboratory of Land Degradation and Ecological Restoration in Northwest China, Ningxia University, Yinchuan 750021, China


Rangeland desertification is one of the most serious problems threatening the ecological environment and socio-economic development on the eastern Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in China. To combat desertification and reduce its adverse effects, some strategies have been undertaken to stabilize the mobile sand dunes and restore the desertified land. In this study, rangeland desertification with a gradient degree of none, light, medium, severe and extreme was assessed, and short-term effectiveness of different treatments on stabilizing the shifting sand dunes was evaluated by monitoring selected vegetation and soil properties. Results showed that vegetation became thinner and sparser, and soil environment deteriorated significantly under desertification, leading to a poor and low diversity ecosystem. Applying a checkerboard protection strategy in which herb species were planted and using a shrub vegetation planting method without checkerboard protection on mobile dunes for five years, vegetation growth state and soil properties were improved. Soil particles were finer, vegetation restoration was more rapid, and soil nutrient improvement was more apparent at the lower locations of the sand dunes under the checkerboard protection planted with herbs, which performed slightly better in improving soil properties than the shrub planting method alone. A longer time period would be required for vegetation and soils on the sand dunes to be restored to sustain more intensive land use. These findings provide more insight into dune stabilization, allowing effective management in the ecological restoration of desertified rangeland.

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.