Environmental degradation of pasture areas in the Qilian Mountains (Gansu province, NW China) has increased in recent years. Soil erosion and loss of biodiversity caused by overgrazing is widespread. Changes in plant cover, however, have not been analysed so far. The aim of this paper is to identify plant communities and to detect grazing-induced changes in vegetation patterns. Quantitative and qualitative relevé data were collected for community classification and to analyse gradual changes in vegetation patterns along altitudinal and grazing gradients. Detrended correspondence analysis (DCA) was used to analyse variation in relationships between vegetation, environmental factors and differential grazing pressure. The results of the DCA showed apparent variation in plant communities along the grazing gradient. Two factors - altitude and exposure - had the strongest impact on plant community distribution. Comparing monitoring data for the most recent nine years, a trend of pasture deterioration, plant community successions and shift in dominant species becomes obvious. In order to increase grassland quality, sustainable pasture management strategies should be implemented.
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