Effects of Cross-Boundary Processes on Human-Nature Dynamics in Wolong Nature Reserve for Giant Pandas

Successfully balancing wildlife conservation and human well-being requires sound knowledge of processes operating not only within a particular coupled human-natural system, such as a nature reserve, but also of processes operating across system boundaries. While our understanding of biophysical cross-boundary processes, such as nutrient flows and invasions of exotic species, has improved markedly over the past decade, work on social processes is urgently needed. Two increasingly important cross-boundary social processes impacting nature reserves around the world are rural-urban labor migration (migration of residents from rural areas for urban employment opportunities) and ecotourism (nature-based tourism in rural areas often by city dwellers). These phenomena are especially critical and rapidly evolving in developing countries such as China, which are experiencing unprecedented increases in human mobility due to economic development over the past three decades. However, little is known about the interactive effects of migration and ecotourism on human-nature dynamics. This project will contribute to a better understanding of the effects of these interacting processes on the coupled human-natural system (forests/panda habitat and local residents) in the Wolong Nature Reserve, the flagship reserve for conservation of the world-famous endangered Giant Pandas of China. The project will take a systems approach to address four interrelated objectives: (1) evaluate the effects of ecotourism on the coupled human-natural system; (2) assess the effects of labor migration on the coupled human-natural system; (3) understand the interactive effects of labor migration and ecotourism on the coupled human-natural system, and (4) model and simulate the long-term effects of migration and ecotourism on the coupled human-natural system. The methods to be used in this study include field observations, face-to-face interviews with stakeholders, geographic information systems, remote sensing, global positioning systems, statistical tools, and systems modeling and simulation. The project will tightly integrate research with both formal education from K-12 to graduate school, and with engagement of stakeholders and the general public from local to international levels. This project will contribute to the theoretical understanding of complex human-natural system dynamics, concentrating on crucial characteristics such as nonlinearity, thresholds, feedbacks, and uncertainty that are shaped by cross-boundary processes. The project will also make methodological contributions by advancing the state-of-the-art in agent-based modeling in producing a web-accessible model exploring the complexity of cross-boundary processes. With respect to the application of research results, the project will contribute to improved policy for the conservation of panda habitat in Wolong, providing insight for designing policies that balance the needs of panda conservation and economic development in the worlds most populous nation. The findings will also be of general interest to many other systems due to escalating cross-boundary processes around the world and the urgent need to develop effective policies for addressing increasingly complex human-nature dynamics.

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