A landscape-scale assessment of steppe degradation in the Xilin River Basin, Inner Mongolia, China

C. Tong, Jianguo Wu, S. Yong, J. Yang, W. Yong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

258 Scopus citations


Steppe degradation is a major ecological and economic problem in the Inner Mongolia steppe region, China because it reduces grassland productivity and leads to desertification. The objective of this study was to assess the spatial extent and severity of steppe degradation in the Xilin River Basin, Inner Mongolia using a landscape-scale approach. Our approach combined information from field survey records, existing vegetation maps, and remote sensing data to determine the different degrees of degradation for diverse steppe communities at the local scale and their spatial pattern at the landscape scale. We also developed a steppe degradation index (SDI) that integrates the information on the spatial extent and severity of steppe degradation. Our results showed that the total area of degraded steppe in this region increased from 7191.3km 2 in 1985 to 7689.3km2 (72% of the total basin) in 1999. We used SDI to quantify the degree of degradation and its changes in space and time. The SDI maps revealed that large-scale patterns of steppe degradation were related to landform types. For both 1985 and 1999, the four landforms exhibited increasing degrees of degradation in the following order: low mountains > lava tablelands > hills > high plains. Several seriously degraded regions in the Xilin River Basin were identified. This study demonstrates the effectiveness of combining remote sensing data and synoptic ecological indices in assessing ecosystem degradation, and provides useful information for improving grassland management practices and restoring the degraded steppe vegetation in the Xilin River Basin, Inner Mongolia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)133-149
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Arid Environments
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 2004


  • Ecosystem degradation
  • GIS
  • Grassland ecology
  • Inner Mongolia grassland
  • Remote sensing
  • Steppe degradation index (SDI)
  • Xilin river basin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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