Environmental Management

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 19–36 | Cite as

Land Degradation on Barren Hills: A Case Study in Northeast Vietnam

  • Nina NikolicEmail author
  • Rainer Schultze-Kraft
  • Miroslav Nikolic
  • Reinhard Böcker
  • Ingo Holz


The term “barren hills” has been a keyword for land degradation in the uplands of Vietnam for over a decade. Nevertheless, the “barren” land is still not adequately ecologically characterized. In this work, we analyze land use-induced changes in vegetation and soil properties along a sequence of barren hills types formed on one physiotope. The study is undertaken in the Bac Kan province, one of the poorest upland regions where livestock plays an important role. A transition from an old-growth laurel forest to a sparse manmade grassland is characterized by a total of 177 species, rapid species turnover, and discrete dominants, and an overwhelming effect of disturbance history on both soil and vegetation patterning. Land degradation is most apparent in land use-induced maintenance of arrested successions, and the regeneration course is shifted towards drier formations. We hypothesize a conceptual model as an aid to understanding the process of early fallow differentiation in response to the patterned, fine-scale disturbances. The larger-scale implications of the observed trends in regeneration potentials deviation, and, in particular, the effect of water buffaloes in halting fallow successions, are discussed.


Barren hills Fallow succession Vietnam Land degradation Water buffalo Land use policy 



This work was a part of the C2 subproject of the Uplands Program (SFB 564: “Sustainable land use and rural development in mountainous regions of SE Asia”), funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). The first author thanks the Vater und Sohn Eiselen Stiftung (Ulm, Germany) for the research scholarship. The support of our work in Vietnam by the Vietnamese Agricultural Science Institute (Hanoi, Vietnam), and the Systèmes Agraires de Montagnes Project is acknowledged. We thank Prof. Tran Dinh Nghia (Hanoi National University, Vietnam) and Dr. Steve Renvoize (Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, U.K.) for the supervision of species identification, Dr. Sam Fujisaka (CIAT, Colombia) for critical reading of the manuscript, and Prof. Ernest A. Kirkby (University of Leeds, U.K.) for linguistic improvements.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nina Nikolic
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rainer Schultze-Kraft
    • 2
  • Miroslav Nikolic
    • 1
  • Reinhard Böcker
    • 3
  • Ingo Holz
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute for Multidisciplinary ResearchBelgradeSerbia
  2. 2.University of Hohenheim, Institute for Plant Production and Agroecology in the Tropics and Subtropics (380c)StuttgartGermany
  3. 3.Institute for Landscape Ecology (320), University of HohenheimStuttgartGermany

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