The Driving Forces and Environmental Consequences of Land-Use and Land-Cover Changes in the Upper Yangtze Basin of China: A Multi-Scale, Integrative Approach

Because land-use and land-cover changes (LUCC) in the coming decades will further intensify the trends of climate change, desertification, species extinction, and soil-nutrient losses, studying LUCC has become a major academic and policy undertaking. Chinas upper Yangtze basin is an excellent site for LUCC research. Induced by high population density, rapid economic growth, and historical resource exploitation, regional land uses and land covers have witnessed tremendous change, including depletion of primary forests, degradation of grassland, and farming on steep slopes. These disturbances have resulted in worsening soil erosion, elevated levels of greenhouse-gas emissions, and severe damage to the rich web of life. While recent efforts have been made at ecological rehabilitation, the outlook of the regional environment is far from certain or optimistic. This research project will conduct a two-year pilot LUCC study in the upper Yangtze basin. Project objectives are (1) to measure the attributes and dynamics of LUCC in the upper Yangtze basin; (2) to explore sampling and modeling strategies to determine the factors influencing land-use and land-cover change and make future projections; and (3) to develop and validate datasets and approaches for assessing the environmental impacts. To accomplish these objectives, project investigators will (1) integrate the natural and human processes at multiple scales; (2) build spatial, physical, and socioeconomic datasets from various sources; (3) identify specific ways for obtaining additional socioeconomic and ecological data, verifying the data quality through surveying and ground truthing; (4) develop case studies to profile regional land-use and land-cover change, with a focus on technological and institutional changes; and (5) search for appropriate procedures to incorporate technological and institutional changes as well as system feedbacks into the LUCC models. The project is expected to advance basic knowledge of the forces that produce regional land-use and land-cover change and environmental impacts of that change. It will spur the development of more effective models as well as future plans for similar but larger integrated research and educational endeavors. Knowledge of regional land-use and land-cover changes will guide China in designing and implementing policies and technical actions that promote sustainable land use and environmental protection. It also will aid China in fulfilling its commitments to restoring its ecosystems, which is in line with its Forestry Action Plan for Agenda 21, Blueprint for Ecosystem Development, and other international obligations. Chinas experience will benefit those countries that face environmental challenges while undergoing economic transition and other nations that have been contemplating how to combat the worsening resource and environmental conditions while reducing poverty. Moreover, enhanced knowledge about land-use and land-cover changes in China is relevant to such international initiatives as the Kyoto Protocol, the Convention on Desertification Combating, and the Convention on Biological Diversity. This project is supported by an award resulting from the FY 2005 special competition in Biocomplexity in the Environment focusing on the Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems.

Lead Investigator: 
Other Investigator(s): 
LUCC models
Upper Yangtze Basin of China
Temporal Scope: 
Spatial Scope: 
Natural System: 
temperate basin
Human System: 
agriculture, land use, regulation