Land Degradation and Ecosystem Services

  • Zhanguo Bai
  • David Dent
  • Yunjin Wu
  • Rogier de Jong


Destructive land use is driving long-term losses of ecosystem function and productivity. Satellite measurements of Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) since 1981 provide a global yardstick, revealing that a quarter of the land surface has been degrading over the last quarter of a century; every continent and biome is affected with Africa south of the equator, southeast (SE) Asia and south (S) China hardest hit. The loss of primary productivity is equivalent to more than a billion Mg C but the associated emissions from loss of biomass and soil organic carbon are much greater. Degradation is not confined to farmland (18 % of the degrading area is cropland; 47 % is classed as forest); neither is it strongly associated with drylands, population pressure or poverty. A case study using more detailed data for China explores the effects of soil resilience and the association between land degradation and land use. NDVI can only be a proxy measure of land degradation; assessment of ecosystem services is a further step removed. Remotely-­sensed data can be used along with climatic and topographic data as an input to models that predict the provision of these services but the processes, drivers and effects beyond NPP are unseen and more importantly, unmeasured. This is an issue for emerging markets in environmental services.


Land degradation Normalized Difference Vegetation Index Land use Soil Climate Ecosystem services 



Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer


The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, Consortium for Spatial Information


Center for International Earth Science Information Network, Colombia University


Climate Research Unit, University of East Anglia, Time Series


Energy-Use Efficiency


Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome


Global Inventory Modelling and Mapping Studies, University of Maryland


Global Assessment of Human-Induced Soil Degradation


Harmonic Analyses of NDVI Time-Series


European Commission Joint Research Centre, Ispra, Italy


MODIS 8-Day Net Primary Productivity data set


Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer


Normalized Difference Vegetation Index


Net Primary Productivity


Residual Trends of sum NDVI


Rain-Use Efficiency


Soil organic carbon


Soil and Terrain database


Shuttle Radar Topography Mission


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zhanguo Bai
    • 1
  • David Dent
    • 2
  • Yunjin Wu
    • 3
  • Rogier de Jong
    • 4
  1. 1.ISRIC – World Soil InformationWageningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Merchants of Light, Chestnut Tree Farm, Forncett EndNorfolkUK
  3. 3.Nanjing Institute of Environment SciencesMinistry of Environment ProtectionNanjingP. R. China
  4. 4.Remote Sensing LaboratoriesUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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