Research ArticleECOLOGY

Evolution and effects of the social-ecological system over a millennium in China’s Loess Plateau

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Science Advances  07 Oct 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 41, eabc0276
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc0276

Abstract

Understanding the regime shifts of social-ecological systems (SES) and their local and spillover effects over a long time frame is important for future sustainability. We provide a perspective of processes unfolding over time to identify the regime shifts of a SES based on changes in the relationships between SES components while also addressing their drivers and local and spillover effects. The applicability of this approach has been demonstrated by analyzing the evolution over the past 1000 years of the SES in China’s Loess Plateau (LP). Five evolutionary phases were identified: “fast expansion of cultivation,” “slow expansion of cultivation,” “landscape engineering for higher production,” “transition from cultivation to ecological conservation,” and “revegetation for environment.” Our study establishes empirical links between the state (phase) of a SES to its drivers and effects. Lessons of single-goal driven and locally focused SES management in the LP, which did not consider these links, have important implications to long-term planning and policy formulation of SES.

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