The Tibetan Plateau and its similarities to New Zealand's high country is the focus of a Lincoln University research project into grasslands.
The work is being funded by the New Zealand and Chinese governments until 2018 to understand the farming systems on the plateau, how nutrients cycle up there and how sustainability can be improved.
Soil scientist Jim Moir is leading the research to examine soil fertility and pasture legumes, which he said were a critical source of nitrogen for grasslands, as well as food for stock.
Dr Moir said a field trial had been set up on a high country farm on the edge of Lake Hawea to compare how legumes survive in New Zealand.
"Similar problem... in New Zealand and on the Tibetan Plateau where legumes are really struggling to survive and persist for a number of factors: climate, soil acidity are issues in New Zealand, in Tibet it seems to be climate, potentially soil fertility, potentially over grazing.
"We're trying to find those legume species which are palatable to grazing animals but which can spread, hit a critical level of abundance in the grassland systems. We're talking about different legumes species... any legumes which will do the job in terms of fixing nitrogen and providing high quality food for those animals," said Dr Moir.
The scope of the research goes much wider, Dr Moir said.
The team includes animal and plant scientists, agribusiness experts and an agronomist to look at farming systems on the plateau.
"We're learning about how yaks digest their food and what effect that has on the grassland in terms of nutrients being cycled.
"We're also interviewing farmers up in Tibet... particularly to look at the social aspects of the farmers, what happens to the products up on the plains, how they run their farming systems, how their lifestyles influence how they run their farming systems.
"It's all very important to look at all of these components in a project such as this so we can pull everything together," said Dr Moir.