Landscape Ecology

, Volume 32, Issue 11, pp 2187–2203 | Cite as

Land-use regime shift triggered the recent degradation of alpine pastures in Nyanpo Yutse of the eastern Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau

  • Li LiEmail author
  • Fabian E. Fassnacht
  • Ilse Storch
  • Matthias Bürgi
Research Article



The eastern Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau is a cultural landscape where traditional pastoralism substantially shaped the present mosaic structure of the alpine grasslands. During the past two decades, however, severe grassland degradations of this region has been considered as the major ecological concern.


In this study we took an interdisciplinary approach to investigate the impact of the historical land-use regimes to the observed degradation, by conducting an in-depth case study in a local pastoral village in the Nyanpo Yutse region.


Firstly, we mapped historical land-use intensities (LUIs) of the study area at land-use transition time points of 1970s, 1984, 1994 and 2015 with oral history and participatory GIS (PGIS) approaches. Secondly, we conducted Landsat and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) time series analysis to detect the temporal and spatial patterns of the degradation. Thirdly, we discussed the causal relations between the land-use and land-cover changes.


Livestock and pasture privatization from 1984 to 1994 created the land-use regime shift which resulted in a marked increase in LUIs and decreased pastoral mobility. The LUI increase in this transition period fostered the establishment of short-grass vegetation which facilitated the spreading of plateau pikas. The installment of iron fences as private pasture borders from 2004 to 2007 eventually started the onset of degradation.


Our case study illustrates that the past land-use regime shift triggered the recent ecological regime shift in Nyanpo Yutse. Severe grassland degradation occurred with a time lag during which cumulative LUIs surpassed the vulnerability threshold of the biophysical system.


Cultural landscape Oral history PGIS Land-use intensity Alpine landscape Plateau pika Remote sensing Interdisciplinary research 



The authors would like to express our deep gratitude to the Nyanpo Yutse Environment Association. We thank Drugkyab and Kenpo Tashi Zangpo for sharing their knowledge of Tibetan cultures. We are grateful to Benjamin Pulver for his expert opinion regarding alpine grassland degradation, as well as to Andreas Fritz for providing drone images of the study area. We acknowledge the Rufford foundation and Shanshui Conservation Center for financing our field trips. The Rapid Eye-base maps was supported by Blackbridge (project ID 996). We acknowledge NASA, the USGS and LP DAAC for providing free Landsat and MODIS data. Last and most important, we thank every interviewees from the study village for their openness and friendship.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 135 kb)
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Supplementary material 4 (DOCX 57 kb)
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Supplementary material 5 (DOCX 1469 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Chair of Wildlife Ecology and ManagementUniversity of FreiburgFreiburgGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Geography and GeoecologyKarlsruhe Institute of TechnologyKarlsruheGermany
  3. 3.Research Unit Landscape DynamicsSwiss Federal Research Institute WSLBirmensdorfSwitzerland

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