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The Rangeland Journal Abstracts

The full text of the papers is available to members of The Australian Rangeland Society at http://www.publish.csiro.au/nid/202.htm

These abstracts are from the latest issue of The Rangeland Journal.

 

The Rangeland Journal - Vol 40 (2)  2018

Responses of aboveground biomass and soil organic carbon to projected future climate change in Inner Mongolian grasslands

Qiuyue Li A B , Xuebiao Pan B D , Lizhen Zhang B , Chao Li A D , Ning Yang C , Shuo Han A and Caihua Ye A

A Beijing Municipal Climate Center, Beijing Meteorological Service, Beijing 100089, China.

B College of Resources and Environmental Sciences, China Agricultural University, Beijing 100193, China.

C Huairou District Branch, Beijing Meteorological Service, Beijing 101400, China.

D Corresponding author. Email: panxb@cau.edu.cn; lichaocma@163.com

The Rangeland Journal 40(2) 101-112 https://doi.org/10.1071/RJ16074
Submitted: 3 August 2016  Accepted: 18 October 2017   Published: 12 December 2017

Abstract

Understanding the impacts of future climate change on the grassland ecosystems of Inner Mongolia is important for adaptation of natural resource planning, livestock industries and livelihoods. The CENTURY model was validated against observed climate data from 1981 to 2010 for 16 sites. It simulated grass productivity and soil fertility with acceptable agreement, with the coefficient of the root-mean-square error calculated as 41.0% for biomass and 19.5% for soil organic carbon. The model was then used to assess changes to 2100 in aboveground biomass and soil organic carbon under two different climate-change scenarios that were developed for the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The first scenario, RCP4.5 is an intermediate scenario for climate change, incorporating policies and technologies that stabilise growth in greenhouse-gas emissions. The second, RCP8.5, assumes continuing, high demand for energy and increasing greenhouse-gas emissions. Aboveground biomass of meadow and desert steppes responded positively to both scenarios, whereas the typical steppe showed a negative response to RCP4.5 but a positive response to RCP 8.5. Soil organic carbon showed a negative response for all steppe types. The simulations indicated that aboveground biomass and soil organic carbon of Inner Mongolian steppes were sensitive to projected emission scenarios. The CENTURY model predicted aboveground biomass to be 8.5% higher in the longer term (2081–2100) than baseline (1986–2005) under RCP4.5, and 24.3% higher under RCP8.5. Soil organic carbon was predicted to undergo small but significant decreases on average across all sites (1.2% for RCP4.5. 2.9% for RCP8.5). Our results could help decision makers to appreciate the consequences of climate change and plan adaptation strategies.

Additional keywords: carbon storage, climate scenarios, CVRMSE, dry matter, ecology model, grass species.

 

Temporal and spatial heterogeneity of drought impact on vegetation growth on the Inner Mongolian Plateau

Miao Bailing A B , Li Zhiyong A F , Liang Cunzhu A , Wang Lixin A , Jia Chengzhen C , Bao Fuxiang D and Jiang Chao E

A School of Ecology and Environment, Inner Mongolia University, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region 010021, P.R.China.

B Inner Mongolia Meteorological Institute, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region 010051, P.R.China.

C Inner Mongolia Ecological and Agricultural Metrological Center, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region 010051, P.R.China.

D Inner Mongolia Climate Center, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region 010051, P.R.China.

E Grassland Research Institute, The Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region 010010, P.R.China.

F Corresponding author. Email: zylee007@imu.edu.cn

The Rangeland Journal 40(2) 113-128 https://doi.org/10.1071/RJ16097
Submitted: 24 September 2016  Accepted: 7 November 2017   Published: 12 January 2018

Abstract

Drought frequency and intensity have increased in recent decades, with consequences for the structure and function of ecosystems of the Inner Mongolian Plateau. In this study, the Palmer drought severity index (PDSI) was chosen to assess the extent and severity of drought between 1982 and 2011. The normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI) was used to analyse the responses of five different vegetation types (forest, meadow steppe, typical steppe, desert steppe and desert) to drought. Our results show that during the last 30 years, the frequency and intensity of droughts have increased significantly, especially in summer and autumn. The greatest decline in NDVI in response to drought was observed in typical steppe and desert steppe vegetation types. Compared with other seasons, maximum decline in NDVI was observed in summer. In addition, we found that NDVI in the five vegetation types showed a lag time of 1–2 months from drought in the spring and summer. Ancillary soil moisture conditions influenced the drought response, with desert steppe showing a stronger lag effect to spring and summer drought than the other vegetation types. Our results show that drought explains a high proportion of changes in NDVI, and suggest that recent climate change has been an important factor affecting vegetation productivity in the area.

Additional keywords: vegetation dynamics, spatial variation, resilience of rangeland systems, grassland ecosystems.

 

Nitrogen deposition changes the distribution of key plant species in the meadow steppe in Hulunbeier, China

Wang Xuan A , Wang Xin Ting B , Liang Cun Zhu A D and Niu Yong Mei C

A Inner Mongolia University, School of Ecology and Environment, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, China.

B Inner Mongolia University of Technology, School of Energy and Power Engineering, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, China.

C Hohhot Meteorological Bureau, Hohhot Meteorological Observatory, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, China.

D Corresponding author. Email: bilcz@imu.edu.cn

The Rangeland Journal 40(2) 129-142 https://doi.org/10.1071/RJ16075
Submitted: 5 August 2016  Accepted: 10 January 2018   Published: 19 March 2018

Abstract

Improved understanding of how nutrient levels affect the distribution of plants can provide important insights into the potential impacts of increasing global nitrogen (N) deposition. We used point pattern analyses to examine the impact of nutrient addition on heterogeneity in the spatial distribution of the three main plant species of the meadow steppe community of Hulunbeier, Inner Mongolia: Leymus chinensis (Trin.) Tzvel (aka Aneurotepidimu chinense), a rhizamotous grass; Stipa baicalensis Rasher, a bunch grass; and Artemisia tanacetifolia Linn, a rhizamotous forb. The six treatments tested added nitrogen N in three different concentrations, N with phosphorus (P), P alone and a Control. Although the three plant species were randomly distributed at the start of the experiment in 2011, the spatial distribution of some species in some treatments had changed at the end of 3 years of nutrient addition. There was a significant increase in aggregation of L. chinensis at fine scales of analysis from application of N and P in tandem. However, S. baicalensis and A. tanacetifolia distributions remained random under all treatments. Positive associations of L. chinensis with S. baicalensis and with A. tanacetifolia were apparent at the lowest concentration of added N, 2.5 g N m–2 year–1, which represented an approximate doubling of global N deposition. These associations, which represent clustering among individuals of these species were also apparent where only P was applied. Negative associations, representing dispersion, were prevalent with higher N concentrations. The results indicate that increases in global N deposition up to about double current levels may have a positive influence on meadow steppe communities by increasing the niche overlap of different species. However, increases beyond that level may trigger substantial ecological change through increased competition for other, more limited, environmental resources, and disassociation between plants of the different dominant species. Our findings suggest that studies of the spatial patterning of plant communities can contribute to understanding the potential impacts of climate change.

 

Ecological responses of Stipa steppe in Inner Mongolia to experimentally increased temperature and precipitation. 1: Background and experimental design

Zhiqiang Wan A B , Guozheng Hu B C , Yali Chen A B , Colmvn Chao A and Qingzhu Gao B

A School of Ecology and Environment, Inner Mongolia University, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region 010021, China.

B Key Laboratory for Agro-Environment and Climate Change of Ministry of Agriculture, Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development in Agriculture, CAAS, Beijing 100081, China.

C Corresponding author. Email: huguozheng@caas.cn

The Rangeland Journal 40(2) 143-146 https://doi.org/10.1071/RJ16081
Submitted: 21 August 2016  Accepted: 11 January 2018   Published: 13 March 2018

Abstract

Both temperature and precipitation are predicted to increase in the region of the Stipa steppe of Inner Mongolia. We conducted an experiment to simulate both the individual and combined effects of warming and increased precipitation on community structure (biomass and diversity) and ecological processes (soil respiration and ecosystem carbon exchange). Open-topped chambers were used to simulate climatic warming, and irrigation was applied to simulate a 20% increase in precipitation. Open-topped chambers were effective in producing significant increases in mean air temperature in each year of the experiment (2011–2015), with the average increase ranging from 2.5°C to 3°C in the final 3 years of the study. Mean soil temperature was significantly increased in 2 of the 5 years of observation. Irrigation significantly increased soil moisture. The experimental treatments thus produced environmental changes consistent with those expected in the region by mid-century and provide a basis for examining the likely effects of climate change on the grassland ecosystem as reported in companion papers.

Additional keywords: biodiversity, carbon exchange, climate change, typical steppe.

 

Ecological responses of Stipa steppe in Inner Mongolia to experimentally increased temperature and precipitation. 2: Plant species diversity and sward characteristics

Zhiqiang Wan A B , Yulong Yan A B , Yali Chen A B , Rui Gu A C , Qingzhu Gao B D and Jie Yang A D

A School of Ecology and Environment, Inner Mongolia University, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia 010021, China.

B Key Laboratory for Agro-Environment & Climate Change of Ministry of Agriculture, Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development in Agriculture, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing 100081, China.

C College of Grassland, Resources and Environment, Inner Mongolia Agricultural University, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia 010020, China.

D Corresponding authors. Email: gaoqingzhu@caas.cn; yangjie@mail.imu.edu.cn

The Rangeland Journal 40(2) 147-152 https://doi.org/10.1071/RJ16082
Submitted: 21 August 2016  Accepted: 11 January 2018   Published: 13 March 2018

Abstract

The responses of plant community diversity and sward characteristics to temperature and moisture changes on the Stipa steppe in Inner Mongolia were investigated in the growing season from 2013 to 2015. Warming significantly (P < 0.05) increased biomass and density. Highest biomass and density were achieved with warming and precipitation combined, whereas increased precipitation alone had no significant effect. Warming increased the Shannon–Weiner diversity index, which was significantly correlated with both air temperature (R2 = 0.45, P < 0.05) and soil temperature (R2 = 0.255 P < 0.05), and it was further increased by the combination of warming and increased precipitation. The Simpson index, an alternative measure of diversity that is not as sensitive to species richness, was less responsive to either warming or increased precipitation. Overall, warming had a more substantial effect than increased precipitation on the characteristics of the Stipa steppe community. However, its impact was complex, with significant variance among the 3 years of the study. The impacts of future changes in precipitation are also likely to be complex and warrant further research.

Additional keywords: climate change, density, ecosystem, productivity, species numbers, typical steppe.

 

Ecological responses of Stipa steppe in Inner Mongolia to experimentally increased temperature and precipitation. 3: Soil respiration

Xuexia Wang A , Yali Chen A B , Yulong Yan A B , Zhiqiang Wan A B , Ran Chao A B , Rui Gu A C , Jie Yang B and Qingzhu Gao A D

A Key Laboratory for Agro-Environment & Climate Change of Ministry of Agriculture, Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development in Agriculture, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing 100081, China.

B School of Ecology and Environment, Inner Mongolia University, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia 010021, China.

C College of Grassland, Resources and Environment, Inner Mongolia Agricultural University, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia 010020, China.

D Corresponding author. Email: gaoqingzhu@caas.cn

The Rangeland Journal 40(2) 153-158 https://doi.org/10.1071/RJ16083
Submitted: 21 August 2016  Accepted: 11 January 2018   Published: 19 March 2018

Abstract

The response of soil respiration to simulated climatic warming and increased precipitation was evaluated on the arid–semi-arid Stipa steppe of Inner Mongolia. Soil respiration rate had a single peak during the growing season, reaching a maximum in July under all treatments. Soil temperature, soil moisture and their interaction influenced the soil respiration rate. Relative to the control, warming alone reduced the soil respiration rate by 15.6 ± 7.0%, whereas increased precipitation alone increased the soil respiration rate by 52.6 ± 42.1%. The combination of warming and increased precipitation increased the soil respiration rate by 22.4 ± 11.2%. When temperature was increased, soil respiration rate was more sensitive to soil moisture than to soil temperature, although the reverse applied when precipitation was increased. Under the experimental precipitation (20% above natural rainfall) applied in the experiment, soil moisture was the primary factor limiting soil respiration, but soil temperature may become limiting under higher soil moisture levels.

Additional keywords: carbon expenditure, simulated climate change, typical steppe.

 

Ecological responses of Stipa steppe in Inner Mongolia to experimentally increased temperature and precipitation. 4: Carbon exchange

Luomeng Chao A , Zhiqiang Wan A B , Yulong Yan A B , Rui Gu C , Yali Chen A B and Qingzhu Gao B D

- Author Affiliations

A School of Ecology and Environment, Inner Mongolia University, Hohhot 010021, China.

B Key Laboratory for Agro-Environment and Climate Change of Ministry of Agriculture, Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development in Agriculture, CAAS, Beijing 100081, China.

C College of Grassland, Resources and Environment, Inner Mongolia Agricultural University, Hohhot 010020, China.

D Corresponding author. Email: gaoqingzhu@caas.cn

The Rangeland Journal 40(2) 159-166 https://doi.org/10.1071/RJ16080
Submitted: 20 August 2016  Accepted: 11 January 2018   Published: 9 April 2018

Abstract

Aspects of carbon exchange were investigated in typical steppe east of Xilinhot city in Inner Mongolia. Four treatments with four replicates were imposed in a randomised block design: Control (C), warming (T), increased precipitation (P) and combined warming and increased precipitation (TP). Increased precipitation significantly increased both ecosystem respiration (ER) and soil respiration (SR) rates. Warming significantly reduced the ER rate but not the SR rate. The combination of increased precipitation and warming produced an intermediate response. The sensitivity of ER and SR to soil temperature and air temperature was assessed by calculating Q10 values: the increase in respiration for a 10°C increase in temperature. Q10 was lowest under T and TP, and highest under P. Both ER and SR all had significantly positive correlation with soil moisture. Increased precipitation increased net ecosystem exchange and gross ecosystem productivity, whereas warming reduced them. The combination of warming and increased precipitation had an intermediate effect. Both net ecosystem exchange and gross ecosystem productivity were positively related to soil moisture and negatively related to soil and air temperature. These findings suggest that predicted climate change in this region, involving both increased precipitation and warmer temperatures, will increase the net ecosystem exchange in the Stipa steppe meaning that the ecosystem will fix more carbon.

Additional keywords: carbon emission and fixation, climate change, photosynthetic capacity, typical grassland ecosystem.

 

Ecological responses of Stipa steppe in Inner Mongolia to experimentally increased temperature and precipitation. 5: Synthesis and implications

Guozheng Hu A , Zhiqiang Wan B , Yali Chen B , Luomeng Chao B , Qingzhu Gao A , Xuexia Wang A C and Jie Yang B

A Key Laboratory for Agro-Environment and Climate Change of Ministry of Agriculture, Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development in Agriculture, CAAS, Beijing 100081, China.

B School of Life Sciences, Inner Mongolia University, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region 010021, China.

C Corresponding author. Email: wxx0427@163.com

The Rangeland Journal 40(2) 167-170 https://doi.org/10.1071/RJ17047
Submitted: 19 May 2017  Accepted: 11 January 2018   Published: 16 April 2018

Abstract

A randomised block experiment was conducted to study the response of plant community characteristics (biomass, density and diversity) and ecosystem carbon exchange processes to warming, increased precipitation and their combination on Stipa steppe in Inner Mongolia. Increased precipitation enhanced the effect that warming had in promoting community diversity and biomass. Increased precipitation directly increased net ecosystem exchange and gross ecosystem productivity, although ecosystem respiration and soil respiration also increased. However, warming did not have a significant effect on net ecosystem exchange and gross ecosystem productivity, whereas ecosystem respiration and soil respiration were significantly decreased by warming. All carbon flux processes had a significantly positive correlation with soil moisture. However, the carbon sequestration processes, gross ecosystem productivity and net ecosystem exchange, were significantly negatively correlated with temperature, contrary to carbon emission processes, soil respiration and ecosystem respiration. Results suggest that Stipa steppe may be benefited by future climate change, as the predicted precipitation is increasing with warming in Inner Mongolia. However, it is hard to predict the feedback of Stipa steppe to climate, because of the uncertainty in magnitude and temporal dynamics of climate change. To reveal the mechanism of the observed responses, further studies are suggested in this region on the effects of altered climate variables on plant species interactions, soil organic carbon composition, soil extracellular enzyme activity, microbial biomass and microbial respiration.

Additional keywords: carbon exchange, climate change, manipulated experiment, plant community.

 

A comprehensive appraisal of four kinds of forage under irrigation in Xilingol, Inner Mongolia, China

Yulong Yan A B , Zhiqiang Wan A B , Ran Chao A B , Yiqing Ge A B , Yali Chen A B , Rui Gu C , Qingzhu Gao B D and Jie Yang A D

A School of Ecology and Environment, Inner Mongolia University, Hohhot 010021, China.

B Key Laboratory for Agro-Environment and Climate Change of Ministry of Agriculture, Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development in Agriculture, CAAS, Beijing 100081, China.

C College of Grassland, Resources and Environment, Inner Mongolia Agricultural University, Hohhot 010020, China.

D Corresponding authors. Email: gaoqingzhu@caas.cn; yangjie@mail.imu.edu.cn

The Rangeland Journal 40(2) 171-178 https://doi.org/10.1071/RJ16084
Submitted: 21 August 2016  Accepted: 31 October 2017   Published: 12 January 2018

Abstract

Planting of forage can alleviate grazing pressure on natural ecosystems. In the Inner Mongolian environment, higher forage yields can be expected under irrigation because water is a key factor that limits plant growth. Lower grass yield caused by land degradation and climatic change highlight the potential importance of irrigated forage for maintaining livestock production in this environment. The present study in the Xilingol area of Inner Mongolia aimed to identify forage varieties producing high-yielding, quality forage. Three lucerne (alfalfa) varieties (Medicago sativa L. cvv. Aohan and Zhaodong, Medicago varia Martyn) and a grass (Elymus nutans Griseb) were assessed. Irrigation commenced when soil moisture at 10 cm depth reached the wilting coefficient, and ceased when soil reached field capacity. After 4 months, irrigation had significantly increased specific leaf area, tiller numbers and yield under irrigation (P < 0.05) in all varieties. Yield of cv. Zhaodong was highest at 5111 kg ha–1. Forage quality was evaluated by using yield, leaf : stem ratio and crude fibre, crude protein and crude fat contents. Forage quality was significantly higher in the three lucerne varieties than in the grass, under both irrigation and natural rainfall, with no significant difference among the three lucerne varieties. Cost–benefit analysis showed that irrigation was much more profitable for the three lucerne varieties than for the grass because of the lower market value and yield of the grass.

Additional keywords: cost–benefit ratio, Inner Mongolian grasslands, nutritional value.

 

Response of plant functional traits at species and community levels to grazing exclusion on Inner Mongolian steppe, China

Jinghui Zhang A , Yongmei Huang A B , Huiying Chen A , Jirui Gong A , Yu Qi A , Engui Li A and Xiuchen Wu A

A State Key Laboratory of Surface Processes and Resource Ecology, School of Natural Resources, Faculty of Geographical Science, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China.

B Corresponding author. Email: ymhuang@bnu.edu.cn

The Rangeland Journal 40(2) 179-189 https://doi.org/10.1071/RJ16086
Submitted: 24 August 2016  Accepted: 22 February 2018   Published: 9 April 2018

Abstract

Variations in ecosystem function in response to land-use changes may be expected to reflect differences in the functional traits of plants. In this study, we sought to reveal the relationship between trait variability and grazing management on typical steppe in Inner Mongolia, and explore the implications of this relationship for ecosystem functioning. We measured aboveground biomass and 18 functional traits of the most abundant plant species in a grassland subject to three grazing-management regimes: long-term grazing, short-term grazing exclusion (since 2008) and long-term grazing exclusion (since 1956).

Principal component analysis of the variation in species-level traits revealed trade-offs between the traits that enabled rapid acquisition of resources by fast-growing annual species and those that promoted conservation of resources by perennial grasses, especially Stipa grandis. However, there was no systematic pattern of intra-specific variation in trait values recorded among sites.

Aggregation of plant functional traits to the community level revealed a gradient of responses of typical steppe to grazing exclusion. Long-term grazing favoured species whose traits indicate low forage quality and relatively low growth rate. Exclusion of grazing for several years favoured species whose traits indicate relatively high growth rate and high capacity to acquire resources. Exclusion of grazing for several decades favoured species whose morphological and physiological traits indicated low growth rates and high capacity for resource conservation. These community-level traits imply that ecosystem carbon and nutrient stores will change in response to the grazing regime. Long-term grazing will result in decreased plant carbon and nitrogen content, and will lead to carbon and nutrient loss, whereas short-term and long-term grazing exclusion are beneficial to the recovery of carbon and nutrient storage. The findings support the value of community aggregated traits as indicators of environmental or management change and for explaining changes in ecosystem function.

Additional keywords: CSR triangle, grazing management, PCA, plant economics spectrum, plant functional group.

 

Response of ecosystem functions to climate change and implications for sustainable development on the Inner Mongolian Plateau

Guozheng Hu A , Jocelyn Davies B , Qingzhu Gao A D and Cunzhu Liang C

A Key Laboratory for Agro-Environment and Climate Change of Ministry of Agriculture, Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development in Agriculture, CAAS, Beijing 100871, China.

B The Northern Institute, Charles Darwin University, Alice Springs, NT 0870, Australia.

C School of Life Sciences, Inner Mongolia University, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, 010021, China.

D Corresponding author. Email: gaoqingzhu@caas.cn

The Rangeland Journal 40(2) 191-203 https://doi.org/10.1071/RJ18041
Submitted: 2 April 2018  Accepted: 26 April 2018   Published: 11 May 2018

Abstract

The responses of ecosystem functions in Inner Mongolian grasslands to climate change have implications for ecosystem services and sustainable development. Research published in two previous Special Issues of The Rangeland Journal shows that recent climate change added to overgrazing and other factors caused increased degradation of Inner Mongolian rangelands whereas on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, climate change tended to ameliorate the impacts of overgrazing. Recent climate change on the Mongolian Plateau involved warming with increasingly variable annual precipitation and decreased summer rainfall. Future climate projections are different, involving modest increases in precipitation and further climate warming. Research published in the current Special Issue shows that precipitation is the climate factor that has the most substantial impact on ecosystem functions in this region and is positively correlated with plant species diversity, ecosystem carbon exchange and Normalised Difference Vegetation Index. Increased flows of provisioning and regulating ecosystem services are expected with future climate change indicating that its impacts will be positive in this region. However, spatial heterogeneity in the environments and climates of Inner Mongolia highlights the risk of over-generalising from local-scale studies and indicates the value of increased attention to meta-analysis and regional scale models.

The enhanced flows of ecosystem services from climate change may support sustainable development by promoting recovery of degraded grasslands with flow-on benefits for livelihoods and the regional economy. However, realising these potential benefits will depend on sound landscape management and addressing the risk of herders increasing livestock numbers to take advantage of the extra forage available. Investment in education is important to improve local capacity to adapt rangeland management to climate change, as are policies and strategies that integrate social, economic and ecological considerations and are tailored to specific regions. Gaps in understanding that could be addressed through further research on ecosystem functions include; belowground carbon exchange processes; the impact of increased variability in precipitation; and the impact of different management practices under changed climates.

 

Corrigendum to: Influence of climatic factors on variation in the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index in Mongolian Plateau grasslands

Xu-Juan Cao, Qing-Zhu Gao, Ganjurjav Hasbagan, Yan Liang, Wen-Han Li and Guo-Zheng Hu

The Rangeland Journal 40(2) 205 - 206
Published: 11 May 2018

Abstract

Climate change will affect how the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), which is correlated with climate factors, varies in space and over time. The Mongolian Plateau is an arid and semi-arid area, 64% covered by grassland, which is extremely sensitive to climate change. Its climate has shown a warming and drying trend at both annual and seasonal scales. We analysed NDVI and climate variation characteristics and the relationships between them for Mongolian Plateau grasslands from 1981 to 2013. The results showed spatial and temporal differences in the variation of NDVI. Precipitation showed the strongest correlation with NDVI (43% of plateau area correlated with total annual precipitation and 44% with total precipitation in the growing season, from May to September), followed by potential evapotranspiration (27% annual, and 30% growing season), temperature (7% annual, 16% growing season) and cloud cover (10% annual, 12% growing season). These findings confirm that moisture is the most important limiting factor for grassland vegetation growth on the Mongolian Plateau. Changes in land use help to explain variations in NDVI in 40% of the plateau, where no correlation with climate factors was found. Our results indicate that vegetation primary productivity will decrease if warming and drying trends continue but decreases will be less substantial if further warming, predicted as highly likely, is not accompanied by further drying, for which predictions are less certain. Continuing spatial and temporal variability can be expected, including as a result of land use changes.