Journal of Mountain Science

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 207–225 | Cite as

Spatial patterns and driving forces of land change in Tibetan-inhabited Three Rivers Headwaters region, China

  • Yao Yu
  • Zhou Guo
  • Yi-Chen WangEmail author


The Three Rivers Headwaters Region (TRHR) plays a key role in regulating water supply and climate of East Asia. A comprehensive understanding of the processes and driving forces of the long-term land use dynamics of the TRHR is needed to guide sustainable land resource management and regional ecological conservation strategies. This study examined long-term land change patterns in the TRHR and investigated the driving forces of the change. First, Landsat TM/ETM+ images covering TRHR of four time points from 1987 to 2016 were used to derive land use patterns, and statistical metrics were applied to quantify the spatial and temporal changes. Second, Principal Component Analysis and correlation analysis were employed to analyze environmental and social-economic data to identify the driving forces of land use change. Third, potential influences of the religion of Tibetan Buddhism on land use change were explored using GIS analysis, questionnaire survey and field observation. Results showed that areas of barren land, agricultural land, and built-up land largely increased, while areas of grassland and forest greatly decreased, with the highest change rate occurring in the most recent decade of analysis (from 2007 to 2016). Among the three headwater regions, the Yellow River Headwater Region showed an overall higher changing speed than the other two headwater regions. The regional driving forces of change in TRHR included social-economic development, climatic condition, pressure of population growth, and environmental protection activities. It was also found that Tibetan Buddhism can help slow down the changes caused by human activities.


Land use land cover Tibetan Plateau Tibetan Buddhism Religious environmental protection Grassland degradation 


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Yu is supported by the Graduate Research Support Scheme, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material, approximately 60 KB.


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Copyright information

© Science Press, Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, CAS and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyNational University of SingaporeSingaporeSingapore

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