A Policy-Driven Large Scale Ecological Restoration: Quantifying Ecosystem Services Changes in the Loess Plateau of China

Lü, Y. F. et al., 2012. PLoS ONE

Original research (primary data)
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As one of the key tools for regulating human-ecosystem relations, environmental conservation policies can promote ecological rehabilitation across a variety of spatiotemporal scales. However, quantifying the ecological effects of such policies at the regional level is difficult. A case study was conducted at the regional level in the ecologically vulnerable region of the Loess Plateau, China, through the use of several methods including the Universal Soil Loss Equation (USLE), hydrological modeling and multivariate analysis. An assessment of the changes over the period of 2000-2008 in four key ecosystem services was undertaken to determine the effects of the Chinese government’s ecological rehabilitation initiatives implemented in 1999. These ecosystem services included water regulation, soil conservation, carbon sequestration and grain production. Significant conversions of farmland to woodland and grassland were found to have resulted in enhanced soil conservation and carbon sequestration, but decreased regional water yield under a warming and drying climate trend. The total grain production increased in spite of a significant decline in farmland acreage. These trends have been attributed to the strong socioeconomic incentives embedded in the ecological rehabilitation policy. Although some positive policy results have been achieved over the last decade, large uncertainty remains regarding long-term policy effects on the sustainability of ecological rehabilitation performance and ecosystem service enhancement. To reduce such uncertainty, this study calls for an adaptive management approach to regional ecological rehabilitation policy to be adopted, with a focus on the dynamic interactions between people and their environments in a changing world.

Case studies

Basic information

  • Case ID: INT-224-1
  • Intervention type: Created habitats
  • Intervention description:

    GFGP - Under the GTGP, the government offered grain and cash to farmers annually as compensation (grain subsidy of 1500 kg/ha plus cash subsidy of RMB 300/ha) for their opportunity costs in discontinuing farming on sloping croplands … involvement of 0.12 billion farmers in retiring and re-vegetating 9.27 million hectares of sloping croplands

  • Landscape/sea scape ecosystem management: Yes
  • Climate change impacts Effect of Nbs on CCI Effect measures
    Reduced water availability  Negative Water supply: runoff change (mm/year) Water yield at the watershed-scale was modeled as precipitation minus evapotranspiration (ET), based on the assumption of negligible water storage change in the Loess Plateau region on an annual time scale. Monthly ET (mm) was estimated by ET = 9.78+0.0072*PET*PPT+0.051*PPT*LAI, where PET represents potential evapotranspiration (mm), PPT represents precipitation (mm), and LAI represents leaf area index (dimen- sionless) [11].
    Soil erosion  Positive Erosion: soil loss per unit rainfall erosivity, Rainfall erosivity [megajoules x mm/ (ha x hour x yr)], Total soil retention(10^8 t) calculated using Universal Soil Loss Equation (USLE)
  • Approach implemented in the field: Yes
  • Specific location:

    Entire Loess plateau

  • Country: China
  • Habitat/Biome type: Created forest | Created grassland |
  • Issue specific term: Payment for Ecosystem Services


  • Notes on intervention effectivness: Effectiveness determined by assessing change in outcome measures over time since intervention implementation across the entire study region For water outcomes, although they report some increase in specific areas, interested in regional water yield which was negative "This study’s results suggest that GTGP has resulted in ecosystem property and service change under unfavorable climate change conditions. Specifically, the following changes have been detected: 1) Significant expansion of grassland, woodland and residential areas, and shrinkage of farmland; 2) Reduction in regional water yield; 3) Significant improvement in regional soil conservation capacity, grain production and carbon sequestration."
  • Is the assessment original?: Yes
  • Broadtype of intervention considered: Not applicable
  • Compare effectivness?: No
  • Compared to the non-NBS approach: Not applicable
  • Report greenhouse gas mitigation?: Yes
  • Impacts on GHG: Positive
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on natural ecosystems: No
  • Impacts for the ecosystem: Not reported
  • Ecosystem measures:
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on people: No
  • Impacts for people: Not reported
  • People measures:
  • Considers economic costs: No
  • Economic appraisal conducted: No
  • Economic appraisal described:
  • Economic costs of alternative considered: No
  • Compared to an alternative: Not reported

Evaluation methodology

  • Type of data: Quantitative
  • Is it experimental: No
  • Experimental evalution done: Not applicable
  • Non-experimental evalution done: Empirical case study
  • Study is systematic: