Demand for rubber is causing the loss of high diversity rain forest in SW China
As the economies of developing countries grow, and the purchasing power of their inhabitants increases, the pressure on the environment and natural resources will continue to increase. In the specific case of China, impressive economic growth during the last decades exemplifies this process. Specifically, we focus on how changing economic dynamics are influencing land-use and land-cover change in Xishuangbanna, China. Xishuangbanna has the richest flora and fauna of China, but increasing demand for natural rubber and the expansion of rubber plantations is threatening this high-diversity region. We quantified land-use/land-cover change across Xishuangbanna using Landsat images from 1976, 1988, and 2003. The most obvious change was the decrease in forest cover and an increase in rubber plantations. In 1976, forests covered approximately 70% of Xishuangbanna, but by 2003 they covered less than 50%. Tropical seasonal rain forest was the forest type most affect by the expansion of rubber plantations, and a total of 139,576 ha was lost. The increase of rubber plantations below 800 m, shifted agricultural activities to higher elevations, which resulted in deforestation of mountain rain forest and subtropical evergreen broadleaf forest. Although these changes have affected the biodiversity and ecosystem services, we believe that long-term planning and monitoring can achieve a balance between economic and social needs of a growing population and the conservation of a highly diverse flora and fauna. Below 800 m , we recommend that no more rubber plantations be established, existing forest fragments should be protected, and riparian forests should be restored to connect fragments. Future rubber plantations should be established in the abandoned arable or shrublands at higher elevations, and tea or other crops should be planted in the understory to improve economic returns and reduce erosion.