Spatially explicit assessment of ecosystem services in China’s Loess Plateau: Patterns, interactions, drivers, and implications

Jiang, C., et al., 2018. Global and Planetary Change

Original research (primary data)
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Human demands for natural resources have significantly changed the natural landscape and induced ecological degradation and associated ecosystem services. An understanding of the patterns, interactions, and drivers of ecosystem services is essential for the ecosystem management and guiding targeted land use policy-making. The Losses Plateau (LP) provides ecosystem services including the carbon sequestration and soil retention, and exerts tremendous impacts on the midstream and downstream of the Yellow River. Three dominant ecosystem services between 2000 and 2012 within the LP were presented based on multiple source datasets and biophysical models. In addition, paired ecosystem services interactions were quantified using the correlation analysis and constraint line approach. The main conclusions are as follows. It was observed that the warming and wetting climate and ecological program jointly promoted the vegetation growth and carbon sequestration. The increasing precipitation throughout 2000-2012 was related to the soil retention and hydrological regulation fluctuations. The vegetation restoration played a positive role in the soil retention enhancement, thus substantially reduced water and sediment yields. The relationships between ecosystem services were not only correlations (tradeoffs or synergies), but rather constraint effects. The constraint effects between the three paired ecosystem services could be classified as the negative convex (carbon sequestration vs. hydrological regulation) and hump-shaped (soil retention vs. carbon sequestration and soil retention vs. hydrological regulation), and the coefficients of determination for the entire LP were 0.78, 0.84, and 0.65, respectively. In the LP, the rainfall (water availability) was the key constraint factor that affected the relationships between the paired ecosystem services. The spatially explicit mapping of ecosystem services and interaction analyses utilizing constraint line approach enriched the understanding of connections between ecosystem services and the potential drivers, which had important implications for the land use planning and landscapes services optimizing.

Case studies

Basic information

  • Case ID: INT-201-1
  • Intervention type: Created habitats
  • Intervention description:

    The ‘Grain for Green Program (GFGP) The main transfer areas in ecosystem were the farmland to grassland (10,259 km2), the farmland to forest (2576 km2), and the farmland to residential land (2675 km2). conversion of farmland to shrub, forest, and grassland; mostly to farmland; caused by the GFGP program.

  • Landscape/sea scape ecosystem management: Yes
  • Climate change impacts Effect of Nbs on CCI Effect measures
    Reduced water availability  Negative Water shortages - water yield, indicated by runoff coefficient
    Soil erosion  Positive Erosion – soil retention, assessed by changes in measured sediment yield
    Biomass cover loss  Positive Biomass cover loss – success of revegetation measured via NDVI
  • Approach implemented in the field: Yes
  • Specific location:

    Loess plateau, using 8 sub regions of the plateau to do the analyses.

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


  • Notes on intervention effectivness: The authors aim to assess the impact of the GFGP (to ‘quantify the performance of large-scale ecological rehabilitation efforts’) on a set of ecosystem services, which address 3 climatic impacts (biomass cover loss, erosion, and water yield). the authors specify that over the same landscape with other soil and water conservation programs: “the soil and water conservation programs have been implemented in the midstream of the Yellow River since late 1950s, which included the terrace, check dam, reservoir, afforestation, and reforestation (see Supplementary Fig. 1)” In addition to directly affecting the measured outcomes, these additional interventions could promote vegetation restoration (authors use the literature to back this up as evidence) Previous studies concluded that ‘landscape engineering, terracing and the construction of check dams and reservoirs were the primary factors driving reduction in sediment load from the 1970s to 1990s’ o As shown in Fig. 6, the water yield (indicated by runoff coefficient, Cr) and sediment yield (indicated by sediment yield coefficient, Cs) in the midstream of the Yellow River declined substantially since afforestation programs (vegetation restoration was indicated by NDVI) conducted around 2000 o As shown in Fig. 5, soil retention, carbon sequestration, and hydrological regulation were able to achieve a win–win situation. - specific passages attributing intervention effectiveness to the revegetation. Note that effectiveness of revegetation on measured outcomes for erosion and water regulation services depend on how it is carried out - o However, species features and composition for the vegetation restoration should receive a special attention. The species with high NPP is not the sole consideration when the locals try to optimize or maximize ecosystem services. When the NPP was over the thresholds, the other services (i.e., soil retention and hydrological regulation) decreased on the entire region level (Fig. 5). - For erosion the and water regulation services (which affects water availability) effectiveness may be mixed because they state that there was a threshold beyond which too much npp led to a decline in soil retention service, which is indicative that the relationship between these services is heavily dependent on the extent and type of vegetation planting - However overall, the intervention was effective to reduce sediment yield and the intervention reduced water yield. - They also measure the runoff coefficient changes, which they say was reduced by the intervention thus the intervention may be effective to reduce flooding risk but this is not explicitly stated. - Also note - the relationship between ecosystem services is identified to be mediated by rainfall.
  • 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: n/a
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on people: No
  • Impacts for people: Not reported
  • People measures: n/a
  • 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: