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The littoral zone in the Three Gorges Reservoir, China: challenges and opportunities

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For flood control purpose, the water level of the Three Gorges Reservoir (TGR) varies significantly. The annual reservoir surface elevation amplitude is about 30 m behind the dam. Filling of the reservoir has created about 349 km2 of newly flooded riparian zone. The average flooding period lasts for more than 6 months, from mid-October to late April. The dam and its associated reservoir provide flood control, power generation, and navigation, but there are also many environmental challenges. The littoral zone is the important part of the TGR, once its eco-health and stability are damaged,which will directly endanger the ecological safety of the whole reservoir area and even the Yangtze River Basin. So, understanding the great ecological opportunities which are hidden in littoral zone of TGR (LZTGR) and putting forward approaches to solve the environmental problems are very important. LZTGR involves a wide field of problems, such as the landslides, potential water pollution, soil erosion, biodiversity loss, land cover changes, and other issues. The Three Gorges dam (TGD) is a major trigger of environmental change in the Yangtze River. The landslides, water quality, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, dam operation, and challenge for land use are closely interrelated across spatial and temporal scales. Therefore, the ecological and environmental impacts caused by TGD are necessarily complex and uncertain. LZTGR is not only a great environmental challenge but also an ecological opportunity for us. In fact, LZTGR is an important structural unit of TGR ecosystem and has special ecosystem services function. Vegetation growing in LZTGR is therefore a valuable resource due to accumulation of carbon and nutrients. Everyone thinks that the ecological approach to the problem is needed. If properly designed, dike–pond systems, littoral woods systems, and re-created waterfowl habitats will have the capacity to capture nutrients from uplands and obstruct soil erosion. Ecological engineering approaches can therefore reduce environmental impacts of LZTGR and optimize ecological services. In view of the current situation and existing ecological problems of LZTGR, according to function demands such as environmental purification, biodiversity conservation, and vegetation carbon sink enhancement, we should explore the eco-friendly utilization mode of resources in LZTGR. Ecological engineering approaches might minimize the impacts or optimize the ecological services. Natural regeneration and ecological restoration in LZTGR are valuable for soil erosion decrease, pollutant purification, biodiversity conservation, carbon sink increase, and ecosystem health maintenance in TGR.

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We are grateful for the financial support from the Natural Science Foundation of China (Project 51179214), and Chinese Science & Technology Ministry (2011GB2F100010) and International Science and technology cooperation project of Science and Technology of Chongqing Municipality (cstc201120002).

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Correspondence to Xing-zhong Yuan.

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Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

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Yuan, X., Zhang, Y., Liu, H. et al. The littoral zone in the Three Gorges Reservoir, China: challenges and opportunities. Environ Sci Pollut Res 20, 7092–7102 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-012-1404-0

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  • China
  • Three Gorges
  • Littoral zone
  • Environmental challenges
  • Ecological opportunities
  • Ecological engineering