Integrated Ecosystem Assessment of Western China

Project Summary

The aim of the Western China Ecosystem Assessment was to provide scientific guidance for the successful implementation of the Western China Development Strategy by considering multiple potential policy and management options for sustaining ecosystems services and increasing socio-economic growth in the region. The western region of China, which consists of 12 provinces, is both economically lagging and ecologically fragile. Western China encompasses approximately 6.8 million square kilometers and accounts for 70% of the land area of China.

The study focused on mapping vital ecosystems services of the region and determining the driving forces behind changes in these services. The assessment found that trends varied across the vast regions of the study area. Increases in precipitation and general climate warming were distributed unevenly across western China, as were the effects of population pressure and land use change. Policy and future land use scenarios were conducted in the context of the grain-for-green land conservation programme, which rewards farmers with grain and subsidies for converting existing cultivated lands into forest and pasture.

The assessment identified habitat loss and degradation of grassland ecosystems as primary threats to biodiversity in western China. Water scarcity is the primary limiting factor for economic and other growth, especially in the arid northwest. Increases in potential photosynthetic-thermal farmland activity found in some of the region’s provinces were related primarily to increased cultivation in the drylands.

Assessment Approach

The Western China Ecosystem Assessment used multi-tier ecological zoning and established information systems to develop models for analysing ecosystem services. Data collected from nine areas representative of “typical” ecology and socio-economic conditions was used for in-depth assessment and modeling on the local level. Trends and scenarios for water and food supply services of various ecosystems, carbon storage, and biodiversity were analysed by combining the developed models with geographical information systems (GIS). Additionally, a method of surface modeling of population spatial distribution (SMPD) was developed to analyse the relationship between ecosystem services and human well-being. Integration of multi-scale information and discrepancies with GIS data were handled through the development of high accuracy surface modeling (HASM).

The Western China Ecosystem Assessment was carried out by 22 research teams and sub-teams. The final report for the assessment was completed in 2005. The assessment used historical data of changes in ecosystems use and services to develop scenarios for 100 years into the future.

Lead Institutions

Funding for the Western China sub-global assessment was provided by the Ministry of Science and Technology of the People’s Republic of China, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the National Institute for Environmental Studies of Japan.

Professor LIU Jiyuan, Director-General of the Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research, was the principal researcher for the assessment. Dr. YUE Tian Xiang is the contact person for the assessment.

Contact information

  • Prof. Dr. Tian Xiang YUE
    Research Group Leader of Ecological Modelling and Spatially Explicit Simulation
    State Key Laboratory of Resources and Environment Information Systemp>
    Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research
    Chinese Academy of Sciences
    1111A, Datun Road, Anwai, 100101 Beijing, China
    Tel.: 0086-10-64889041p>

Focal Issues

By viewing all ecosystem services of Western China simultaneously and in an integrated manner, past and potential future impacts were assessed comprehensively. The primary focus of this assessment was to provide guidance for the successful implementation of the Western Development Strategy, which strives for socio-economic development for this fragile and depressed region. The specific and technical objectives include five aspects: to establish a data information system, to develop methods and models, to analyze tradeoffs among ecosystem services, to carry out studies on change detection, condition analysis and ecosystem scenarios, and to propose specific measures for policy implementation including environmental emergency responses.

Ecosystems services assessed

Ecological carrying capacity, ecological diversity, cultural and aesthetic values, recreational opportunities, manure, fodder and other socio-economically important products and services as well as relative issues including mechanisms of regional water circulation and spatial distribution of water resources, desertification, land-use and land-cover change, ecological protection (including biodiversity).


Scenarios were modeled for the following factors: terrestrial ecosystems, land cover, food provision and population distribution. Four scenarios were modeled, including: regional balance, environment oriented, economy oriented, and regional imbalance scenarios. The environment oriented and regional imbalance scenarios both indicate that regional instability would increase as a result of economic hardship and disparities between different regions. The economy oriented development scenario ignored the ecological needs of the region with the predictable results of severe ecological degradation. The regional balance scenario is based upon the successful implementation of the Western Development Strategy, which would keep ecological deterioration within limits for the next 50 years.

Project Outputs and Results

Major outputs of the assessment are the modeling systems and data warehouse produced by the assessment team. The data warehouse is for standard control of data from various sources, and can be readily updated for accuracy. Contributions to the MA as a whole include a module of high-accuracy surface modeling for data fusion and transformation of multi-scale information and a model-based system concerning ecological thresholds and analysis of driving forces. These analysis systems can be used for further ecological assessments.

The publication, Integrated Ecosystem Assessment of Western China, in which the data assessments and modeling are documented, is a primary output of this assessment. The published results of the assessment describe the current status of Western China, governmental policy for its development, and the response options available based on scenarios modeled for the next 100 years.


Links to related books and articles

  • Integrated Ecosystem Assessment of Western China in Chinese version, with 1.6 million Chinese words, has been published by China Meteorological Press. Its contact address is, Mr. LI Taiyu, No.46, Zhong-Guan-Cun South Street, 100081 Beijing, China. Ecosystem in West China More Diverse: Report. Download
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