Poverty alleviation strategies in eastern China lead to critical ecological dynamics

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  • Ke Zhang, Palaeoecological Laboratory, Geography and Environment, University of Southampton, Denmark
  • John A. Dearing, University of Southhampton, Denmark
  • Terence P. Dawson, School of the Environment, University of Dundee, Denmark
  • Xuhui Dong, State Key Laboratory of Lake Science and Environment, Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Denmark
  • Xiangdong Yang, State Key Laboratory of Lake Science and Environment, Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China
  • Weiguo Zhang, State Key Laboratory of Estuarine and Coastal Research, East China Normal University, Shanghai, China
Poverty alleviation linked to agricultural intensification has been achieved inmany regions but there is often only limited understanding of the impacts on ecological dynamics. A central need is to observe long term changes in
regulating and supporting services as the basis for assessing the likelihood of sustainable agriculture or ecological collapse.We show how the analyses of 55 time-series of social, economic and ecological conditions can provide
an evolutionary perspective for the modern Lower Yangtze River Basin region since the 1950s with powerful insights about the sustainability of modern ecosystem services. Increasing trends in provisioning ecosystem services
within the region over the past 60 years reflect economic growth and successful poverty alleviation but are paralleled by steep losses in a range of regulating ecosystem services mainly since the 1980s. Increasing connectedness across the social and ecological domains after 1985 points to a greater uniformity in the drivers of the rural economy. Regime shifts and heightened levels of variability since the 1970s in local ecosystem services indicate progressive loss of resilience across the region. Of special concern are water quality services that have already passed critical transitions in several areas. Viewed collectively, our results suggest that the regional social–
ecological systempassed a tipping point in the late 1970s and is nowin a transient phase heading towards a new steady state. However, the long-term relationship between economic growth and ecological degradation shows
no sign of decoupling as demanded by the need to reverse an unsustainable trajectory.
Original languageEnglish
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Pages (from-to)164–181
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 2015

    Research areas

  • Yangtze basin, Poverty alleviation, Agricultural intensification, Ecosystem services, Regime shift, Network connectivity

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