Changes in cultivated land patterns and driving forces in the Three Gorges Reservoir area, China, from 1992 to 2015

  • 6 Accesses


Changes of cultivated land patterns caused by major water conservation projects are rarely reported. We selected the Three Gorges Reservoir area in China to study the change in area and landscape pattern of the cultivated land in the head, central, and tail areas of the reservoir that took place between 1992 and 2015; we then studied the spatial distribution of the cultivated land in the three parts of the reservoir; finally, we studied the driving forces behind the changes in the cultivated land. The results derived are as follows. (1) During the construction of the Three Gorges Project (TGP, 1992–2015), the area of cultivated land around the reservoir decreased by 30.23 million ha. This reduction occurred in phases: the most severe change in cultivated land occurred during the later stage of the project (2002–2010); only 0.62 million ha of cultivated land did not change between 1992 and 2015. (2) Spatial pattern analysis showed that the cultivated land in the three parts of the reservoir changed from a northern distribution to a southern distribution; thus, the area of cultivated land in the north decreased over the time period. The area of cultivated land in the head and tail areas decreased by varying degrees, while it increased in the central area over the 23 years, indicating that the change in cultivated land showed regional differences. (3) The TGP, the policy of reverting farmland to forest, and urbanization were the main driving factors for the change of cultivated land, but there were differences in their impacts at different stages. (4) According to the patch dynamics of the land cover change, the degree of change gradually intensified during the early and later stages of the project and then stabilized during the operational period. Our research provides scientific support for the protection of cultivated land resources and food security in the reservoir area and for the coordination of social and economic development, which is of great significance to sustainable development in the reservoir area.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Access options

Buy single article

Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.

US$ 39.95

Price includes VAT for USA


  1. Austin NJ, Muller JP, Gong L, et al. (2013) A regional investigation of urban land-use change for potential landslide hazard assessment in the Three Gorges Reservoir Area, People’s Republic of China: Zigui to Wanzhou. International Journal of Remote Sensing 34: 2983–3011.

  2. Cao YG, Bai ZK, Zhou W, et al. (2013) Forces driving changes in cultivated land and management countermeasures in the Three Gorges Reservoir Area, China. Journal of Mountain Science 10: 149–162.

  3. Chen YF, Wang YK, Fu B, et al. (2018) Spatial patterns of farmland abandonment and its impact factors in the central Three Gorges Reservoir Area. Journal of Mountain Science 15: 631–644.

  4. Chen ZH, Wang JF (2010) Land use and land cover change detection using satellite remote sensing techniques in the mountainous Three Gorges Area, China. International Journal of Remote Sensing 31: 1519–1542.

  5. Cheng L, Xia N, Jiang PH, et al. (2015) Analysis of farmland fragmentation in China Modernization Demonstration Zone since “Reform and Openness”: a case study of South Jiangsu Province. Scientific Reports volume 5, Article number: 11797 (2015).

  6. Chu H, Venevsky S, Wu C, et al. (2019) NDVI-based vegetation dynamics and its response to climate changes at Amur-Heilongjiang River Basin from 1982 to 2015. Science of the Total Environment 650: 2051–2062.

  7. Cui Y, 2009. Research on dynamic population distribution pattern in the process of migration in the three gorges reservoir area. Chongqing university. (in Chinese).

  8. Deng H, Shao JA (2018) Evapotranspiration and humidity variations in response to land cover conversions in the Three Gorges Reservoir Region. Journal of Mountain Science 15: 590–605.

  9. Feng L, Xu JY (2015) Farmers’ Willingness to Participate in the Next-Stage Grain-for-Green Project in the Three Gorges Reservoir Area, China. Environmental Management 56: 505–518.

  10. Guo J, Gong P (2016) Forest Cover Dynamics from Landsat Time-Series Data Over Yan’an City on the Loess Plateau during the Grain for Green Project (vol 37, pg 4101, 2016). International Journal of Remote Sensing 37: 4500–4500.

  11. Hatna E, Bakker MM (2011) Abandonment and Expansion of Arable Land in Europe. Ecosystems 14: 720–731.

  12. Horst M, Marion A (2019) Racial, ethnic and gender inequities in farmland ownership and farming in the US. Agriculture and Human Values 36: 1–16.

  13. Hwang SW, Kang HK, Son YB, et al. (2013) Collapse of the Crustacean Mesozooplankton in the Northern East China Sea: Effects of the Three Gorges Dam? Journal of Coastal Research 29: 1464–1469.

  14. Kang C, Zhang YL, Paudel B, et al. (2018) Exploring the Factors Driving Changes in Farmland within the Tumen/Tuman River Basin. Isprs International Journal of Geo-Information 7(9): 352.

  15. Lam PKS (2015) Environmental threats to the Three Gorges Reservoir Region: Are mutagenic and genotoxic substances important? Journal of Environmental Sciences 38: 172–174.

  16. Lee YC, Huang SL (2018) Spatial emergy analysis of agricultural landscape change: Does fragmentation matter? Ecological Indicators 93: 975–985.

  17. Li M, Wang Y, Fu B, et al. (2018) Cropland disturbanCe intensity: Plot-scale measurements, multilevel determinants and applications in rural environmental protection. Ecological Indicators 88: 393–401.

  18. Li SF, Li XB (2017) Global understanding of farmland abandonment: A review and prospects. Journal of Geographical Sciences 27: 1123–1150.

  19. Li SF, Li XB (2019) The mechanism of farmland marginalization in Chinese mountainous areas: Evidence from cost and return changes. Journal of Geographical Sciences 29: 531–548.

  20. Li Y, Zhou WC, Chen XY, et al. (2017) Influences of the Three Gorges Dam in China on Precipitation over Surrounding Regions. Journal of Meteorological Research 31: 767–773.

  21. Liang X, Li Y (2019) Spatiotemporal features of farmland scaling and the mechanisms that underlie these changes within the Three Gorges Reservoir Area. Journal of Geographical Sciences 29: 563–580.

  22. Liu XN, Zhang WW, Li H, et al. (2013) Modeling patch characteristics of farmland loss for site assessment in urban fringe of Beijing, China. Chinese Geographical Science 23: 365–377.

  23. Moroney JL, Castellano RS (2018) Farmland loss and concern in the Treasure Valley. Agriculture and Human Values 35: 529–536.

  24. Sbafizadeh-Moghadam H, Minaei M, Feng YJ, et al. (2019) GlobeLand30 maps show four times larger gross than net land change from 2000 to 2010 in Asia. International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation 78: 240–248.

  25. Seeber C, Hartmann H, Wei X, et al. (2010) Land use change and causes in the Xiangxi catchment, Three Gorges Area derived from multispectral data. Journal of Earth Science 21: 846–855.

  26. Shao Ja, Dang Y, Wang W, et al. (2018) Simulation of future land-use scenarios in the Three Gorges Reservoir Region under the effects of multiple factors. Journal of Geographical Sciences 28: 1907–1932.

  27. Shi Z, Deng W, Zhang S (2018) Spatio-temporal pattern changes of land space in Hengduan Mountains during 1990–2015. Journal of Geographical Sciences 28: 529–542.

  28. Song J, Ye J, Zhu E, et al. (2016) Analyzing the Impact of Highways Associated with Farmland Loss under Rapid Urbanization. Isprs International Journal of Geo-Information 5(6): 94.

  29. Song W, Pijanowski BC, Tayyebi A (2015) Urban expansion and its consumption of high-quality farmland in Beijing, China. Ecological Indicators 54: 60–70.

  30. Song Z, Liang SL, Feng L, et al. (2017) Temperature changes in Three Gorges Reservoir Area and linkage with Three Gorges Project. Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres 122: 4866–4879.

  31. Strehmel A, Schmalz B, Fohrer N (2016) Evaluation of Land Use, Land Management and Soil Conservation Strategies to Reduce Non-Point Source Pollution Loads in the Three Gorges Region, China. Environmental Management 58: 906–921.

  32. Su WL, Eriksson T, Zhang LX (2018) Off-farm employment, land renting and concentration of farmland in the process of urbanization: Chinese evidence. China Agricultural Economic Review 10: 338–350.

  33. Sun B, Zhou Q (2016) Expressing the spatio-temporal pattern of farmland change in arid lands using landscape metrics. Journal of Arid Environments 124: 118–127.

  34. Tang J, Di L (2019) Past and Future Trajectories of Farmland Loss Due to Rapid Urbanization Using Landsat Imagery and the Markov-CA Model: A Case Study of Delhi, India. Remote Sensing 11

  35. Teng MJ, Zeng LX, Xiao WF, et al. (2017) Spatial variability of soil organic carbon in Three Gorges Reservoir area, China. Science of the Total Environment 599: 1308–1316.

  36. Wang GJ, Xie C, Stanley HE (2018) Correlation Structure and Evolution of World Stock Markets: Evidence from Pearson and Partial Correlation-Based Networks. Computational Economics 51: 607–635.

  37. Wang LJ, Wu L, Hou XY, et al. (2016) Role of reservoir construction in regional land use change in Pengxi River basin upstream of the Three Gorges Reservoir in China. Environmental Earth Sciences 75: 1048.

  38. Wang T, Yang MH (2018) Land use and land cover change in China’s Loess Plateau: The impacts of climate change, urban expansion and grain for green project implementation. Applied Ecology and Environmental Research 16: 4145–4163.

  39. Wang YH, Kang MY, Zhao MF, et al. (2017) The Spatiotemporal Variation of Tree Cover in the Loess Plateau of China after the ‘Grain for Green’ Project. Sustainability 9(5): 739.

  40. Xia L, Hoermann G, Ma L, et al. (2013) Reducing nitrogen and phosphorus losses from arable slope land with contour hedgerows and perennial alfalfa mulching in Three Gorges Area, China. Catena 110: 86–94.

  41. Xiao G, Zhu X, Hou C, et al. (2019) Extraction and analysis of abandoned farmland: A case study of Qingyun and Wudi counties in Shandong Province. Journal of Geographical Sciences 29: 581–597.

  42. Xiao R, Liu Y, Huang X, et al. (2018) Exploring the driving forces of farmland loss under rapidurbanization using binary logistic regression and spatial regression: A case study of Shanghai and Hangzhou Bay. Ecological Indicators 95: 455–467.

  43. Xu DD, Zhang JF, Rasul G, et al. (2015) Household Livelihood Strategies and Dependence on Agriculture in the Mountainous Settlements in the Three Gorges Reservoir Area, China. Sustainability 7: 4850–4869.

  44. Xu XB, Tan Y, Yang GS, et al. (2011) Impacts of China’s Three Gorges Dam Project on net primary productivity in the reservoir area. Science of the Total Environment 409: 4656–4662.

  45. Ye C, Li S, Zhang Y, et al. (2013) Assessing heavy metal pollution in the water level fluctuation zone of China’s Three Gorges Reservoir using geochemical and soil microbial approaches. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 185: 231–240.

  46. Yu M, Yang YJ, Chen F, et al. (2019) Response of agricultural multifunctionality to farmland loss under rapidly urbanizing processes in Yangtze River Delta, China. Science of the Total Environment 666: 1–11.

  47. Zhang JX, Liu ZJ, Sun XX (2009) Changing landscape in the Three Gorges Reservoir Area of Yangtze River from 1977 to 2005: Land use/land cover, vegetation cover changes estimated using multi-source satellite data. International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation 11: 403–412.

  48. Zhao AZ, Zhang AB, Lu CY, et al. (2017a) Spatiotemporal variation of vegetation coverage before and after implementation of Grain for Green Program in Loess Plateau, China. Ecological Engineering 104: 13–22.

  49. Zhao XF, Zheng YQ, Huang XJ, et al. (2017b) The Effect of Urbanization and Farmland Transfer on the Spatial Patterns of Non-Grain Farmland in China. Sustainability 9(8): 1438.

Download references


The study was jointly funded by the 135 Strategic Program of the Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment, CAS (Grant No. SDS-135-1703) and Coupled relationship and regulation mechanism between rural livelihoods and ecosystem services in the Three Gorges Reservoir Area (No.41371539).

Author information

Correspondence to Yu-kuan Wang.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Zhang, Y., Wang, Y., Fu, B. et al. Changes in cultivated land patterns and driving forces in the Three Gorges Reservoir area, China, from 1992 to 2015. J. Mt. Sci. 17, 203–215 (2020) doi:10.1007/s11629-019-5375-1

Download citation


  • Agricultural land change
  • Three Gorges Reservoir area
  • Landscape index
  • The standard deviation ellipse
  • Cultivated land
  • Driving forces