General description

“Steppe” is called in Chinese “cao yuan”, while most authors also use “grassland” (in Chinese “cao di”) when they refer to steppe. Therefore, we consider steppe and grassland synonyms in the following summaries. We also include alpine meadows, which occur mostly in the eastern Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (QTP) and the adjacent regions as one important habitat within the broad concept of alpine steppes. Steppe covers nearly 4 million km2, which is 2/5 land cover of China. Geographically, the largest areas of steppe are in north, QTP and south, covering 41%, 38% and 21% of the grasslands, respectively. Traditional pasturelands distribute mainly in Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Qinghai, Sichuan and Gansu.

Most researchers separate the Chinese grasslands into two main sub-regions, i.e., temperate and alpine. In that view, temperate grasslands include meadow steppes, typical steppes and desert steppes, while alpine includes alpine steppes and alpine meadows, mainly on the Tibetan plateau and surrounding. It is important to note that desert steppes are considered as one subtype of steppes instead of deserts, and meadows here are not mown but grazed and would thus be termed pastures rather than meadows in terms of e.g. general European understanding.