Assessing the soil erosion control service of ecosystems change in the Loess Plateau of China

Fu, B. J. et al., 2011. Ecological Complexity

Original research (primary data)
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Soil erosion in terrestrial ecosystems, as an important global environmental problem, significantly impacts on environmental quality and social economy. By protecting soil from wind and water erosion, terrestrial ecosystems supply human beings with soil erosion control service, one of the fundamental ecosystem services that ensure human welfare. The Loess Plateau was one of the regions in the world that suffered from severe soil erosion. In the past decades, restoration projects were implemented to improve soil erosion control in the region. The Grain-to-Green project, converting slope croplands into forest or grasslands, launched in 1999 was the most massive one. It is needed to assess the change of soil erosion control service brought about by the project. This study evaluated the land cover changes from 2000 to 2008 by satellite image interpretation. Universal Soil Loss Equation (USLE) was employed for the soil erosion control assessment for the same period with localized parameters. Soil retention calculated as potential soil erosion (erosion without vegetation cover) minus actual soil erosion was applied as indicator for soil erosion control service. The results indicate that ecosystem soil erosion control service has been improved from 2000 to 2008 as a result of vegetation restoration. Average soil retention rate (the ratio of soil retention to potential soil loss in percentage) was up to 63.3% during 2000-2008. Soil loss rate in 34% of the entire plateau decreased, 48% unchanged and 18% slightly increased. Areas suffering from intense erosion shrank and light erosion areas expanded. Zones with slope gradient of 8 degrees-35 degrees were the main contribution area of soil loss. On average, these zones produced 82% of the total soil loss with 45.5% of the total area in the Loess Plateau. Correspondingly, soil erosion control capacity was significantly improved in these zones. Soil loss rate decreased from 5000 t km(-2) yr(-1) to 3600 t km(-2) yr(-1), 6900 t km(-2) yr(-1) to 4700 t km(-2) yr(-1), and 8500 t km(-2) yr(-1) to 5500 t km(-2) yr(-1) in the zones with slope gradient of 8 degrees-15 degrees, 15 degrees-25 degrees, and 25 degrees-35 degrees respectively. However, the mean soil erosion rate in areas with slope gradient over 8 degrees was still larger than 3600 t km(-2) yr(-1), which is far beyond the tolerable erosion rate of 1000 t km(-2) yr(-1). Thus, soil erosion is still one of the top environmental problems that need more ecological restoration efforts.

Case studies

Basic information

  • Case ID: INT-216-1
  • Intervention type: Created habitats
  • Intervention description:

    Grain-to-Green Program restoring cropland to forest or grassland - a large number of slope croplands have been converted to grasslands, forested lands and shrubs

  • Landscape/sea scape ecosystem management: Yes
  • Climate change impacts Effect of Nbs on CCI Effect measures
    Soil erosion  Positive soil erosion rate (km2 a) total soil loss (t km 2/yr ) Soil loss per unit rainfall erosivity apply universal soil loss equation to calculate these measures
  • Approach implemented in the field: Yes
  • Specific location:

    The Loess Plateau locates at the middle reaches of the Yellow River, extending to the Qingling Mountain Ranges in the south, Yinshan Mountain in the north, Taihang Mountain in the east, and Wuqiaoling-Riyue Mountain in the west. This region covers 287 counties of seven provinces including Shaanxi, Gansu, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Henan, and Qinghai. Geographically, it lies between E1008540 700 –1148330 700 and N338430 700 –418160 700 .

  • Country: China
  • Habitat/Biome type: Created forest | Created grassland |
  • Issue specific term: Not applicable


  • Notes on intervention effectivness: Effectiveness by assessing change in erosion outcome measure overtime against increases in vegetation overtime (changes in vegetation were assumed to be driven by the intervention) - look at correlation between the two and see that because vegetation increasing in tandem to decreasing erosion, then intervention was stated to be effective
  • 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?: No
  • Impacts on GHG: Not applicable
  • 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: