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The Visiting Scholars Program at CGREC

By Janet Patton

Table of Contents




Future of the Program


In 2004, an agreement was signed between NDSU’s Central Grasslands Research Extension Center (CGREC) and the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Botany to enable a Chinese scientist and his students to conduct research at CGREC near Streeter, North Dakota. This plan, named the Visiting Scholars Program, allows for an exchange of scientific inquiry. Since that time, graduate-level students from China have studied various aspects of the mixed-grass prairie at CGREC. Using the Center’s extensive database of weather, vegetation, and soil information, along with livestock and rangeland management data collected over many years, these students are able to conduct a variety of studies and contribute to the understanding of the area’s ecology.

CGREC was selected because of its location on the Northern Great Plains. In spite of the unique topography caused by glacial deposition, the climate and vegetation of the area are very similar to those of Inner Mongolia and other grassland areas of northern China (click on map). The impact of grazing and the effects of drought are being studied on both continents. This program allows scientists of the two countries to compare research methods and results. These studies in ecology and plant physiology then lead to improvements in rangeland management.

Scientists at CGREC have collected weather data for 28 years and have compiled an 20-year database of vegetation and livestock production data (plant species composition, forage/biomass production, and cattle performance). Over 100 research projects have been completed at the Center. These projects have provided an extensive amount of information on plant physiology and ecology, soil characteristics (run-off, erosion, soil temperature, soil-water data, and carbon cycling), the effects of drought and fertilization on the native vegetation, cattle nutrition, health, and management, forage production, economics, and wildlife management. The Grazing Intensity Trial is an on-going project designed to study the effects of grazing on vegetation, cattle production, and soils using 12 30-acre pastures at four stocking rates (plus an ungrazed control treatment) with three replications. Started in 1989, this project also allows other researchers to utilize the pastures and livestock, as well as benefit from the years of data collection.

Funding for the Visiting Scholars Program is provided by both institutions. The Chinese Academy of Science provides the salary for the visiting scholars and pays for transportation to and from North Dakota. NDSU and CGREC provide the facilities, study location, equipment, student stipends, and assistance with local transportation and visa arrangements. Personnel from both institutions cooperate with grant procurement and the publication of scientific articles.


The results of research conducted under the Visiting Scholars Program are presented to the scientific and agricultural communities and to the general public by means of scientific journal articles in English and Chinese, CGREC’s Annual Report (distributed to 50,000 readers), CGREC’s website, field tours, and research presentations. New information is incorporated into the Center’s ecological database and into further research. Those involved in land-use planning and management, including livestock and forage producers in the central plains of the U.S. and Canada and in northern China, benefit from the studies.

The highly-selected students who participate in this program benefit in many ways. They are able to expand their scientific and observational skills and apply their previous knowledge to new situations. They learn new field methods and how to use different types of scientific equipment. Working with the CGREC staff, they learn about the soils and topography of the area and about many new plant species and the methods of livestock management in North Dakota. Interacting with researchers, technicians, and other local residents, they are able to improve their English and learn about American culture. The completion of their projects, followed by the publication of scientific articles, allows them to complete their master’s degrees.

CGREC and the local community benefit from the efforts of the Chinese students as well. The new scientific findings can be used by current and future researchers and managers. The students’ outlook is enlightening and the local residents are able to welcome new people to their community and learn about Chinese culture.


Under the agreement, Dr. Shiping Wang from the Northwest Institute of Plateau Biology of the Chinese Academy of Science, a research and educational institution in Beijing, China, was appointed the Visiting Researcher. His research interests are in grazing ecology, rangeland management, and the effects of global climate change on grasslands. He and his 13 graduate students conduct research in Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and the U.S. During this cooperative project, Dr. Wang works under the direction of Paul E. Nyren, Director of CGREC. The program began on February 1, 2004 and is expected to continue until 2011. To date, six of Dr. Wang’s graduate students have studied at CGREC.

Guojie Wang, currently a graduate student at NDSU, is from Inner Mongolia in northern China, and arrived here in May of 2004. His research projects have included a study of plant species’ response to grazing in 2004 and a project on the seed bank of the mixed-grass prairie in 2005. He is now working on a Ph.D. in Natural Resources with an emphasis on soil hydrology.


Danjun Wang has been at CGREC for two field seasons. She is from the coastal province of Zhejiang. Her field of research is the physical and physiological response of plants to grazing (2005), and the competitive potential of plants with respect to grazing and drought (2006).

Jinzhi Wang came to CGREC in April 2006 and May 2008. Originally from Jilin Province in northeastern China, her research involves the use of computer modeling to predict plant productivity based on weather, species composition, soil, and utilization data. In 2008 Jinzhi worked with computer modeling to estimate stomatal conductance.

Xubin Pan, from Anhui Province in southeast China, studied at CGREC from July to December of 2005. His research was on the evaluation of ecosystem services (benefits from the land under various types of land-use) using plant productivity and diversity, soil-water, and livestock-gain data in relation to grazing intensity.


Xueyan Zhao came to CGREC in June 2007 from Henan Province, which is about the size of North Dakota and located in central China. At CGREC she studied the effects of grazing intensity on the eco-physiology of range plants.


Jinhui Wang has been at CGREC for two field seasons, 2007 and 2008. He examined the effect of species composition on root decomposition.

All of these students have contributed articles to the CGREC’s Annual Reports, which are available on the Center’s website.

Future of the Program

The Visiting Scholars Program continues to be a successful endeavor. The scholars conduct a variety of scientific studies and take advantage of the educational opportunities that CGREC provides. The benefits to NDSU and CGREC are also evident, including the construction of an addition to the Center, with office and laboratory space to accommodate researchers from the U.S., China, and other countries. The program itself is also expanding: a study on carbon sequestration has been proposed. This study will benefit local land-owners interested in selling carbon credits, as well as researchers studying the effects of global warming on grassland productivity. The Visiting Scholars agreement is expected to be renewed for an additional five-year period beginning in 2007.

The Visiting Scholars Program has increased scientific knowledge, which will be useful to researchers and producers in both China and the U.S. It has also bridged the gap between people from very different cultures living and working in similar landscapes.

Research reports from visiting scholars