How Human Household Size Affects the Habitat of Black-and-White Snub-Nosed Monkeys (Rhinopithecus bieti) in Hongla Snow Mountain Nature Reserve in Tibet, China

  • Rui-Chang Quan
  • Yong Huang
  • Matthew W. Warren
  • Qi-Kun Zhao
  • Guopeng Ren
  • Sheng Huo
  • Yongcheng Long
  • Jianguo ZhuEmail author


Human impacts on the environment at local or regional scales largely depend on intrinsic characteristics of the population, such as household size, household number, and human population growth. These demographic factors can vary considerably among ethnic groups sharing similar ecological landscapes, yet the role of traditional cultural practices in shaping local environmental impacts is not well known for many parts of the world. We here quantify land-cover changes and their relation to the habitat of the endangered Rhinopithecus bieti in Tibet, in 2 areas populated by different ethnic groups (polyandrous Tibetans and monogamous Naxi) from 1986 to 2006. Results indicate that habitat of the monkey decreased greatly within our study area over the 20-yr period. Polyandrous and monogamous ethnic communities differed in household size, household number, population growth, and per capita and per household land use. The practice of polyandry by ethnic Tibetan appears to have reduced per capita resource consumption by reducing the growth of overall household number and increasing household size, which can mitigate the negative effects of higher human density and population growth on the environment. Ethnic Tibetan may also reduce land impacts by adhering to Buddhist customs and alternative, more sustainable means of livelihood. Accordingly, the protection of traditional cultural resources, such as polyandry and Buddhist beliefs, could be an effective way to aid biodiversity and environmental conservation efforts in this key ecosystem.


Environmental degradation Human polyandry Land use Rhinopithecus bieti Traditional cultures 



The study was supported by funding of National Nature Science Foundation of China (grant no. 30770308), Committee for Research & Exploration, National Geographic Society of US (grant no. 7962-05), The Nature Conservancy, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (INFO-115-C01-SDB3-06-02). We thank the Forestry Department of Tibet Autonomous Region, Hongla Snow Mountain Nature Reserve for their enthusiastic support; GLCF for offering remote sense images; and Professor Chen Jin of Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Mr. Wang Lin of Kunming Institute of Zoology, and Dr Xiao Wen of University of Dali for providing important suggestions and technical support. We thank the 2 anonymous reviewers and associate editor, Dr. Oliver Schülke, for their detailed and valuable comments. We also appreciate the extensive assistance of our local guiders, Mr. Ciren, and Duoji, during field surveys.

Supplementary material

10764_2011_9535_MOESM1_ESM.docx (631 kb)
Electronic Supplementary Material (DOCX 631 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rui-Chang Quan
    • 1
  • Yong Huang
    • 2
  • Matthew W. Warren
    • 1
  • Qi-Kun Zhao
    • 2
  • Guopeng Ren
    • 2
  • Sheng Huo
    • 3
  • Yongcheng Long
    • 4
  • Jianguo Zhu
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.CAS Key Laboratory of Tropical Forest Ecology, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical GardenChinese Academy of SciencesMenglaChina
  2. 2.Ecology, Conservation, and Environment Center (ECEC), Kunming Institute of ZoologyChinese Academy of SciencesKunmingChina
  3. 3.Institute of Eastern-Himalaya Biodiversity ResearchDali UniversityDaliChina
  4. 4.China Program, The Nature ConservancyKunmingChina

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