Grassland greening on the Mongolian Plateau despite higher grazing intensity
Changes in land management and climate alter vegetation dynamics, but the determinants of vegetation changes often remain elusive, especially in global drylands. Here we assess the determinants of grassland greenness on the Mongolian Plateau, one of the world's largest grassland biomes, which covers Mongolia and the province of Inner Mongolia in China. We use spatial panel regressions to quantify the impact of precipitation, temperature, radiation, and the intensity of livestock grazing on the normalized difference vegetation indices (NDVI) during the growing seasons from 1982 to 2015 at the county level. The results suggest that the Mongolian Plateau experienced vegetation greening from 1982 to 2015. Precipitation and animal density were the most influential factors contributing to higher NDVI on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia and Mongolia. Our results highlight the dominant effect of climate variability, and especially of the precipitation variability, on the grassland greenness in Mongolian drylands. The findings challenge the common belief that higher grazing pressure is the key driver for land degradation. The analysis exemplifies how representative wall‐to‐wall results for large areas can be attained from exploring space–time data and adds empirical insights to the puzzling relationship between grazing intensity and vegetation growth in dryland areas.