Session: Vital Connections in Ecology: Multi-Trophic Interactions and Ecosystem Function 1
Road types shape the vegetation in the Gobi desert of Mongolia
Wednesday, August 4, 2021
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Sainchuluu Amarsanaa, Ecology, Mongolian University of Life Sciences, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Bolormaa Tsooj, The Institute of Geography and Geoecology, Mongolian Academy of Sciences, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Ariuntsetseg Lkhagva, Biology, National University of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and Javkhlan Nyamjav, Laboratory of Vegetation Ecology and Plant Resource, Botanic Garden and Research Institute, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Ecology, Mongolian University of Life Sciences Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Background/Question/Methods About 30 years ago, Mongolia's Gobi desert was one of the largest intact ecosystems in the world. The ecosystem was roadless and low traffic and refuge for many endangered and rare species, such as the Gobi bear and wild camel. Human activities have intensified in the desert over the last 30 years, and nowadays the desert is under pressure from a big mining boom and heavy livestock grazing. For the transportation of mining products, a paved road was constructed in 2012 crossing the desert. Unfortunately, vegetation along the paved road was removed without a restoration. In addition to the recent paved road, dirt road corridors continue to be created and expanded in the desert due to intensified human activity. The effects of these roads on the vegetation of this ecosystem have not been studied. We estimated the spatial extent of the dirt road corridors with remote sensing tools and studied the vegetation along both paved and dirt roads, taking into account three distances (100, 500, 900 m) from the road. Results/Conclusions The vegetation along the paved road was lower in species richness, canopy cover, the basal gap between perennial plants and biomass than the dirt road. Although the dirt roads affect vegetation along the roads less negatively than does the paved road, the corridors formed along the dirt roads span a non-negligible area of the pastureland of the region. Paved roads can be of significant socio-economic value in developing countries such as Mongolia, but the environmental costs of a paved road should also be cautiously considered in road planning. The vegetation along the already-constructed paved road in the desert should to be artificially reclaimed with the aim to expedite the natural revegetation. Moreover, a "new legislation" is indicated to prevent continued degradation due to the ongoing creation and extension of dirt road corridors by local populations in the desert.