Environmental Management

, Volume 59, Issue 3, pp 440–454 | Cite as

Understanding Land System Change Through Scenario-Based Simulations: A Case Study from the Drylands in Northern China

  • Zhifeng LiuEmail author
  • Peter H. Verburg
  • Jianguo Wu
  • Chunyang He


The drylands in northern China are expected to face dramatic land system change in the context of socioeconomic development and environmental conservation. Recent studies have addressed changes of land cover with socioeconomic development in the drylands in northern China. However, the changes in land use intensity and the potential role of environmental conservation measures have yet to be adequately examined. Given the importance of land management intensity to the ecological conditions and regional sustainability, our study projected land system change in Hohhot city in the drylands in northern China from 2013 to 2030. Here, land systems are defined as combinations of land cover and land use intensity. Using the CLUMondo model, we simulated land system change in Hohhot under three scenarios: a scenario following historical trends, a scenario with strong socioeconomic and land use planning, and a scenario focused on achieving environmental conservation targets. Our results showed that Hohhot is likely to experience agricultural intensification and urban growth under all three scenarios. The agricultural intensity and the urban growth rate were much higher under the historical trend scenario compared to those with more planning interventions. The dynamics of grasslands depend strongly on projections of livestock and other claims on land resources. In the historical trend scenario, intensively grazed grasslands increase whereas a large amount of the current area of grasslands with livestock converts to forest under the scenario with strong planning. Strong conversion from grasslands with livestock and extensive cropland to semi-natural grasslands was estimated under the conservation scenario. The findings provide an input into discussions about environmental management, planning and sustainable land system design for Hohhot.


Historical land use change Land use planning Conservation Land use intensity Hohhot Land use model 



We would like to thank Dr. Jasper van Vliet, David A. Eitelberg, and Dr. Žiga Malek from VU University Amsterdam for their helpful suggestions on the article. This work has been supported in part by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 41501195), the National Basic Research Program of China (Grant Nos. 2014CB954303 & 2014CB954302) and the funding from European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Program ERC Grant Agreement nr. 311819 (GLOLAND). It was also supported by the Youth Scholars Program of Beijing Normal University (Grant No. 2014NT02) and the State Key Laboratory of Earth Surface Processes and Resource Ecology (Grant No. 2015-RC-01).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zhifeng Liu
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Peter H. Verburg
    • 2
  • Jianguo Wu
    • 1
    • 3
  • Chunyang He
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Human-Environment System Sustainability (CHESS), State Key Laboratory of Earth Surface Processes and Resource EcologyBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Department of Earth Sciences, Environmental Geography groupVU University AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  3. 3.School of Life Sciences and School of Sustainability, Arizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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