Ecosystems

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 279–297 | Cite as

Estimating Long-Term Changes in China’s Village Landscapes

  • Erle Christopher Ellis
  • Nagaraj Neerchal
  • Kui Peng
  • Hong Sheng Xiao
  • Hongqing Wang
  • Yan Zhuang
  • Shou Cheng Li
  • Jun Xi Wu
  • Jia Guo Jiao
  • Hua Ouyang
  • Xu Cheng
  • Lin Zhang Yang
Article

Abstract

Over the past 50 years, China’s ancient agricultural village landscapes have been transformed by unprecedented social, technological, and ecological changes. Although these dense anthropogenic mosaics of croplands, settlements, and other used lands cover more than 2 million square kilometers across China, the nature of these changes and their environmental impacts remain poorly understood because their spatial scale is generally too small to measure accurately using conventional land-change methods. Here, we investigate the regional consequences of fine-scale landscape changes across China’s village regions from 1945 to 2002 using high-resolution, field-validated ecological mapping of a regionally stratified sample of village landscapes at five sites across China, with uncertainties estimated using model-based resampling and Monte Carlo methods. From 1945 to 2002, built surface areas increased by about 7% (90% credible interval = 2–17%) across China’s village regions, an increase equivalent to about three times the total urban area of China in 2000. Although this striking result is explained by a near doubling of already large village populations and by lower housing density per capita in rural areas, two unexpected changes were also observed: a 9% net increase (−4% to +21%) in regional cover by closed canopy trees and an 11% net decline (−30% to +3%) in annual crops. These major regional changes were driven primarily by intensive fine-scale land-transformation processes including tree planting and regrowth around new buildings, cropland abandonment, and by the adoption of perennial crops and improved forestry practices. Moreover, the fragmentation, heterogeneity, and complexity of village landscapes increased over time. By coupling regional sampling and upscaling with observations in the field, this study revealed that fine-scale land-change processes in anthropogenic landscapes have the potential for globally significant environmental consequences that are not anticipated, measured, or explained by conventional coarser resolution approaches to global and regional change measurement or modeling.

Keywords

human dominated ecosystems land-use and land-cover change China anthropogenic biomes ecological history landscape ecology upscaling regional change ecotope mapping agriculture 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation under Grant DEB-0075617 awarded to Erle C. Ellis in 2000. We are very grateful to Xin Ping Liu for research in Hunan, to Shi Ming Luo for supporting research in Guangdong, and to our local collaborators for field assistance across China. Peter Verburg developed our initial regionalization system. Thanks to Kevin Klingebiel, Kevin Sigwart, Jonathan Dandois, and Dominic Cilento for critical assistance in this project. Thanks to Jiyuan Liu for China land-cover data and to Yongzhong Tian for China population density data. Eric Lecoutre developed R code used in producing supplementary material—Appendix 5. Thanks to Michael Leonard and the National Archives and Records Administration for historical aerial photographs. SpaceImaging provided IKONOS imagery. Erle Ellis thanks Steve Gliessman of the Department of Environmental Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Chris Field of the Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institute of Washington at Stanford for graciously hosting his sabbatical. A final thanks to Greg Asner, Diann Prosser, Mutlu Ozdogan, and our anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Supplementary material

10021_2008_9222_MOESM1_ESM.doc (2.1 mb)
(DOC 2163 kb)

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erle Christopher Ellis
    • 1
  • Nagaraj Neerchal
    • 2
  • Kui Peng
    • 3
    • 4
  • Hong Sheng Xiao
    • 5
  • Hongqing Wang
    • 1
    • 6
  • Yan Zhuang
    • 2
  • Shou Cheng Li
    • 7
  • Jun Xi Wu
    • 8
  • Jia Guo Jiao
    • 9
  • Hua Ouyang
    • 3
  • Xu Cheng
    • 8
  • Lin Zhang Yang
    • 9
  1. 1.Department of Geography & Environmental SystemsUniversity of Maryland, Baltimore CountyBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Department of Mathematics & StatisticsUniversity of Maryland, Baltimore CountyBaltimoreUSA
  3. 3.Institute of Geographic Sciences & Natural Resources ResearchChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  4. 4.Metallurgical and Ecological Engineering SchoolUniversity of Science and Technology BeijingBeijingChina
  5. 5.Institute of Tropical & Subtropical EcologySouth China Agricultural UniversityGuangzhouChina
  6. 6.Institute of Coastal Ecology and EngineeringUniversity of Louisiana at LafayetteLafayetteUSA
  7. 7.Agronomy CollegeSichuan Agricultural UniversityYaanChina
  8. 8.Department of Agronomy & AgroecologyChina Agricultural UniversityBeijingChina
  9. 9.Institute of Soil ScienceChinese Academy of SciencesNanjingChina

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