The Mongolian steppe is a vast grassland ecosystem that has been home to nomadic pastoralists and their herds for thousands of years. However, population increases combined with other impacts have caused severe degradation and desertification of the Inner Mongolian steppe. Currently, the trajectory for Inner Mongolian steppe is at a critical juncture, because China's rapid economic growth and new emphasis on rural development coincides with an increasing awareness of environmental issues associated with economic development. Attracted by this situation, we have initiated collaborative research projects with Chinese colleagues addressing issues of grassland degradation and recovery in Inner Mongolia since 2002. We have several research fronts: (1) understand the role of soils and roots in grassland conservation and recovery; (2) explore stable isotope signals embedded in vegetation and soils across a regional east-west transect in Inner Mongolia; and (3) investigate how natural capital and social capital of resource-poor communities in Inner Mongolia interactively influence grassland degradation and recovery under fast changing natural and social environments.
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