Interactive Effects of Conservation and Development Policies on Land Cover and Panda Habitat in the Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuary

Drivers and consequences of land cover changes are complex. On the one hand, economic development converts natural land for human use. On the other hand, conservation efforts prevent such land conversion or restore degraded land. The interactive effects of economic development and conservation on land cover change are largely unclear because most studies have focused on each of these forces separately, although they often act simultaneously and may be complementary or counterproductive. Sound decision making requires a good understanding and ability to project the interactive effects of these forces. 

In this project we propose a systems approach to understand the interactive effects of conservation and development policies on land cover and the resultant spatio-temporal dynamics of habitat for the world-famous endangered giant panda in the Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuary, southwestern China. As a recently created UNESCO World Heritage property, the Sanctuary is home to more than 30% of the wild pandas, constitutes the largest remaining contiguous area of panda habitat, includes seven nature reserves for panda conservation, and is within one of the global biodiversity hotspots. Also, it is home to ca. 150,000 people. Since 2000, two of the most ambitious national conservation programs in the world, the Natural Forest Conservation Program (NFCP) and the Grain-to-Green Program (GTGP), have been implemented in the Sanctuary. While NFCP bans logging in natural forests and provides incentives for farmers to control illegal harvesting, GTGP gives grain and cash subsidies to farmers who convert steep hillside cropland to forest or grassland. However, China has also been pushing hard to escalate economic growth in the region through the West China Development Program (WCDP), which promotes the conversion of forest land for urban and industrial uses.

This project will address the following objectives:

  1. Analyze the effects of conservation programs and the development program on the spatio-temporal dynamics of land cover and giant panda habitat.
  2. Model and simulate the complex interactive effects of conservation and development programs on the spatio-temporal dynamics of land cover and giant panda habitat.

This project addresses an important aspect of the Research Topic Projections of the Land-Use/Land-Cover Change (LULCC) Program at NASA, producing a systems model for land-cover change as related to ecosystems, especially biodiversity as represented by panda habitat. The project will take advantage of numerous NASA remote sensing assets (e.g., Landsat TM, ETM+, ASTER, and MODIS). Founded on our long-term research in Wolong Nature Reserve (which is part of the Sanctuary) for the past 12 years, this proposed project is unique and significant because:

  1. It will provide an explicit understanding of the interactive effects of opposite forces on land cover change.
  2. It will generate a systems model that integrates various demographic, socioeconomic, and ecological factors to predict the dynamics, analyze the mechanisms, and assess the impacts of land cover change. The model will allow for the evaluation of the effects of different policy scenarios on the land cover, and the project will help make informed decisions for minimizing human impacts on panda habitat while striving to improve human well-being.
  3. The evaluation of NFCP, GTGP, and WCDP has global implications, and the project results will be valuable for helping to protect other UNESCO World Heritage properties and evaluate interactive effects of multiple policies in many other landscapes of China and the world. The findings will also be of interest to the general public and other stakeholders due to the growing recognition of the global escalation of human activities on ecosystems.
  4. The completion of this project will help advance the theory, enhance the methodology, and widen the application of the land change science.

Research Team 
Jianguo "Jack" Liu
Zai Liang  
Andrés Viña
Zhiyun Ouyang  
Sandra Batie

This project is supported by NASA.

Lead Investigator: 
Jianguo "Jack" Liu