Study to investigate programs encouraging sustainable golden monkey habitat management in China

Study to investigate programs encouraging sustainable golden monkey habitat management in China

Oct. 24, 2012

China’s Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve provides key habitat for the endangered Guizhou golden monkey. A new project led by CHANS-Net member Li An, of San Diego State University, is investigating the sustainability of payment programs that may help to preserve golden monkey habitat.

CNH: Sustainability of Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) in Coupled Natural and Human Systems is funded by a $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems program.

The Grain-to-Green program is a payments for ecosystem services program that aims to reduce soil erosion and increase vegetation cover in China by encouraging tree planting in steep farmland areas. Households that commit to the program receive a payment in proportion to how much farmland they convert to trees.

“Policymakers want to know how they can ensure people will continue to participate in the program for the long-term,” said An. “More importantly, they also want to ensure that people won’t reconvert their returned land back to crops.”

An thinks that changes in local livelihoods may lead to varying participation in the program.

“If payments cease, if other crops become more profitable to grow, or if local labor markets change, then they may take land out of the program and return it to farming,” he said.

These dynamics are important as changes in local land use can affect golden monkey habitat. To document changes in the reserve, the scientists will be using a broad range of techniques, including cameras to track monkey habitat usage and satellite data to map change over time in the reserve forests.

By comparing the areas the monkeys frequent to areas that the monkeys avoid, the researchers will establish the factors that determine if an area is good habitat, as well as determine if available habitat is increasing or decreasing. If golden monkey habitat is decreasing, this is bad news not only for the monkeys.

“Golden monkeys are what biologists call an umbrella species,” An said. “If we can’t save the golden monkey, then the broader ecosystem in the reserve is also at risk.”

The researchers also will take advantage of a number of other tools, including participatory mapping, to involve local residents in the research. Participatory mapping involves community members in mapping -- from maps drawn in the dirt, to high-tech, three-dimensional computer based maps that can be rotated and zoomed by locals.

“Participatory mapping will allow us to involve the people who are most affected by environmental change -- the residents of the reserve -- and to understand their emotional connection to the landscape,” said CHANS-Net member Stuart Aitken, a member of the research team who is also at San Diego State University.

To bring the many angles of their research together, the team will use participatory agent-based modeling -- a computer modeling technique that can incorporate a range of data types to give an integrated view of how golden monkey habitat may change over time depending on how program participation, local livelihood strategies and demographics evolve. This unique computer modeling approach will provide a tool for policymakers to explore how alternative policies might affect both golden monkey habitat and local livelihoods. It also will be used as an educational tool to demonstrate the effects of payment programs to children, their teachers, undergraduate and graduate students, local reserve managers, and indigenous villagers.

In addition to An and Aitken, other team members are, from San Diego State University: CHANS-Net members Douglas Stow and Rebecca Lewison, and Minjuan Wang; and from the University of North Carolina: CHANS-Net member Xiaodong Chen and Richard Bilsborrow.