Integrating Herbivore Population Dynamics Into a Global Land Biosphere Model: Plugging Animals Into the Earth System

Shree R.S. Dangal, Hanqin Tian, Chaoqun Lu, Wei Ren, Shufen Pan, Jia Yang, Nicola Di Cosmo, Amy Hessl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Mammalian herbivores are an essential component of grassland and savanna ecosystems, and with feedbacks to the climate system. To date, the response and feedbacks of mammalian herbivores to changes in both abiotic and biotic factors are poorly quantified and not adequately represented in the current global land surface modeling framework. In this study, we coupled herbivore population dynamics in a global land model (the Dynamic Land Ecosystem Model, DLEM 3.0) to simulate populations of horses, cattle, sheep, and goats, and their responses to changes in multiple environmental factors at the site level across different continents during 1980–2010. Simulated results show that the model is capable of reproducing observed herbivore population dynamics across all sites for these animal groups. Our simulation results also indicate that during this period, climate extremes led to a maximum mortality of 27% of the total herbivores in Mongolia. Across all sites, herbivores reduced aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP) and heterotrophic respiration (Rh) by 14% and 15%, respectively (p < 0.05). With adequate parameterization, the model can be used for historical assessment and future prediction of mammalian herbivore populations and their relevant impacts on biogeochemical cycles. Our simulation results demonstrate a strong coupling between primary producers and consumers, indicating that inclusion of herbivores into the global land modeling framework is essential to better understand the potentially large effect of herbivores on carbon cycles in grassland and savanna ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2920-2945
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017. The Authors.


  • grassland
  • grazing
  • herbivore population dynamics
  • savanna
  • terrestrial biosphere model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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