Reconstructed cropland in the mid-eleventh century in the traditional agricultural area of China: implications of comparisons among datasets
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Reconstructions of historical cropland area and spatial distribution are necessary for studying human effects on the environment due to agricultural development. To understand the current status of reconstructions of cropland area and its spatial distribution in the mid-eleventh century in the traditional agricultural area of China, we compared three available datasets: the historic cropland inventories-based HE dataset, the population-based History Database of the Global Environment (HYDE) dataset, and the PJ dataset. The results indicate that the HYDE and PJ datasets estimated the regional mean cropland area fraction (a ratio of cropland area to total land area, hereafter, CAF) for the study area to be 0.12 and 0.09, respectively, both of which were lower than the HE estimation of 0.18. Moreover, both the HYDE and PJ datasets have a poor ability to capture the spatial distribution of the historical CAF. The HYDE dataset overestimated the cropland area in North China and underestimated the cropland area in the Yangtze River reach. The HYDE dataset also overestimated the cropland area along the great rivers in North China. The PJ dataset underestimated the cropland area in the old agricultural area and overestimated the cropland area in the relatively new agricultural area. These incorrect spatial distributions from the HYDE and PJ datasets mainly resulted from the underestimation of the historical population and an incorrect approach for the spatial allocation of cropland within China. The incorrect approach was mainly derived from a poor understanding of the historic spatial distribution of cropland. Using the expert knowledge of local historians may be an effective method to reduce the uncertainties in the global historic cropland reconstruction.