Complex Interactions Among Policies, People, and Panda Habitat in the Wolong Nature Reserve Landscape

Human activities are widely recognized as a major force behind rapid landscape changes and loss of biodiversity around the world, including those in numerous nature reserves. Many studies have found that government policies can significantly shape human activities, but most of those studies have focused on a single policy at a time and ignored the interactive effects among various policies. Little is known about the complex interactions among the effects of multiple policies on the spatial-temporal dynamics of biodiversity such as wildlife habitat.

Studying the interrelationships of various policies for biodiversity conservation is critical and urgent because multiple policies often are implemented simultaneously. These policies may be nonlinearly complementary or counterproductive. An excellent site for studying such interactions is Wolong Nature Reserve in Sichuan Province in southwestern China. The reserve, which is 200,000 hectares in size, is one of the largest homes to world-famous endangered giant pandas and several thousand other animal and plant species. There are also more than 4,000 local residents and a variety of human activities in the reserve, such as farming and fuelwood collection. Since the establishment of the reserve in 1975, human population size has increased by more than 70 percent. This rapidly increasing human population plays a novel and unique role in degrading the pandas habitat.

To prevent further degradation of panda habitat and promote habitat restoration, the Chinese government is implementing three conservation policies in the reserve: an eco-hydropower plant program (to eliminate fuelwood consumption), a natural forest conservation program (to prevent illegal forest harvesting), and a grain-to-green program (to return cropland to forest). The interactive effects of these policies on local people and panda habitat are uncertain, however.

The objectives of this research project are (1) to assess the interactions among the three policies and local residents; (2) to evaluate the interrelationships between local residents and panda habitat; (3) to examine the need for and feasibility of policy modification and improvement; and (4) to model and simulate multi-scale interactions among policies, people, and panda habitat across space and time. The methods to be used in this study include field observations, face-to-face interviews with stakeholders, geographical information systems, remote sensing, global positioning systems, statistical tools, systems modeling and simulation, and advanced computer visualization techniques.

In addition to addressing many fundamental ecological and socioeconomic questions, the research will be tightly integrated with the education of students from elementary school to graduate school as well as outreach to various stakeholders from local to international levels. The project will have significant implications for biocomplexity theory, methodology, and application. In terms of theory, this project will shed light on complex patterns and interrelated processes (e.g., nonlinearity, thresholds, feedback, uncertainty) among multiple policies, humans, and wildlife habitat at multiple spatial and temporal scales.

Regarding methodology, the research will take a systems approach by integrating multidisciplinary methods and advanced technologies to investigate the complexity of the study system. With respect to application, the project will provide practical information for conserving panda habitat in Wolong, and it will provide useful insights for designing and improving policies that attempt to balance the needs of biodiversity conservation and economic development in the worlds most populous nation. The findings also will be of general interest to many other parts of the world because of escalating human pressures and increasingly complicated human-nature interactions. This project is supported by an award resulting from the FY 2002 special competition in Biocomplexity in the Environment focusing on the Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems.

Lead Investigator: 
agent-based model
Wolong Nature Reserve, China
Temporal Scope: 
Spatial Scope: 
Natural System: 
temperate mixed forest
Human System: 
agriculture, tourism