Quantifying changes in multiple ecosystem services during 2000–2012 on the Loess Plateau, China, as a result of climate variability and ecological restoration

Jiang, C. W. et al., 2016. Ecological Engineering

Original research (primary data)
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The Loess Plateau (LP) is one of the most fragile eco-regions in China, and is characterized by severe soil erosion and water shortage. The fragile environment poses a threat to ecological safety and sustainable development on the LP and neighboring areas. The ecosystem on the LP has undergone great changes in recent decades owing to dramatic climate change, ecological rehabilitation, and tremendous human pressure. This study was focused on quantifying and assessing the multiple ecosystem services from 2000 to 2012, based on actual observation records and widely used biophysical models. These included Universal Soil Loss Equation (USLE), Revised Wind Erosion Equation (RWSQ), Carnegie-Ames-Stanford Approach (CASA), and rainfall storage method. Furthermore, in this study, the roles of climate variability and an ecological restoration program on vegetation activity and ecosystem services were investigated, as well as the synergies between multiple ecosystem services. The slight increase in both precipitation and temperature during 2000–2012, in conjunction with ecological rehabilitation, induced a trend of increasing in vegetation cover and productivity. During 2000–2012, the overall soil retention function was slightly enhanced while the amount of hydrological regulation decreased. The biomass production (vegetation carbon sequestration) and food production increased sharply. The increasing precipitation intensified water erosion by enhancing rainfall erosivity, whereas the reduction in wind speed lessened wind erosion and thereby reduced the frequency and duration of sandstorm events. Vegetation restoration supported by climate variability and resulting from ecological projects also played positive roles in soil retention enhancement. The spatial correlation analyses indicated synergies between multiple regulating ecosystem services. There was also a synergy between food production and carbon sequestration in vegetation. The performance of ecological rehabilitation and changes in ecosystem services on the LP exemplified the need for ecological conservation to take climate variability into account, and to facilitate synergies involving multiple ecosystem services, to maximize human well-being and preserve natural ecosystems.

Case studies

Basic information

  • Case ID: INT-221-1
  • Intervention type: Created habitats
  • Intervention description:

    The comprehensive control measures of the Grain for Green Program (GFGP) since 1999 included return- ing farmland to forest, artificial reforestation, closing hillsides to facilitate afforestation, grassland restoration, and other ecologi- cal rehabilitation measures, which thus compressed farmland and enlarged woodland.

  • Landscape/sea scape ecosystem management: Yes
  • Climate change impacts Effect of Nbs on CCI Effect measures
    Other climate impact  Positive Other = Sandstorm Measure = Sandstorm prevention, estimated using revised wind erosion equation(RWEQ). Sandstorm prevention refers to the sand retained in an ecosystem within a certain period (one year for this study).
    Other climate impact  Unclear results OTH = hydrological regulation rainfall storage method to assess the hydrological regulation of the ecosystem - calculate the total regulated flow (m3) of a regional ecosystem compared with bare soil
    Soil erosion  Positive Soil retention ( t hm−2 yr−1) - through universal soil loss equation
  • Approach implemented in the field: Yes
  • Specific location:

    The Loess Plateau covers an area of approximately 6.4 × 105 km2 (34–41◦ N, 98–114◦E), traversed by the upper-middle reach of China’s Yellow River, which encompasses more than eight sub-basins

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


  • Notes on intervention effectivness: Effectiveness assessed by monitoring change over time in outcome measures correlated to vegetation changes (which are attributed to the intervention) Unclear for hydrological regulation because they contradict themselves as to whether it was positive or negative. in one place they it decreased "Vege- tation restoration supported by climate variability and resulting from ecological projects also played positive roles in soil reten- tion enhancement. From 2000 to 2012, the overall soil retention function was slightly enhanced while the hydrological regulation amount decreased. " but in another say "Com- paring the hydrological regulation amount in 2000 versus 2012 (Fig. 7(c)), it increased slightly (0–40m3 hm−2 yr−1) in more than 90% of all areas. " and also "The GFGP tended to facilitate synergies of multiple ecosystem services including soil retention, vegetation carbon sequestration, hydrological regulation, and food production. These synergies are important goals that ecological rehabilitation programs try to reach. The successful performance of GFGP was jointly attributed to climate variability and the innovative ecosystem management. "
  • 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: