Landscape Ecology

, Volume 27, Issue 7, pp 969–982 | Cite as

Distinguishing between human-induced and climate-driven vegetation changes: a critical application of RESTREND in inner Mongolia

Research Article


Changes in the spatiotemporal pattern of vegetation alter the structure and function of landscapes, consequently affecting biodiversity and ecological processes. Distinguishing human-induced vegetation changes from those driven by environmental variations is critically important for ecological understanding and management of landscapes. The main objectives of this study were to detect human-induced vegetation changes and evaluate the impacts of land use policies in the Xilingol grassland region of Inner Mongolia, using the NDVI-based residual trend (RESTREND) method. Our results show that human activity (livestock grazing) was the primary driver for the observed vegetation changes during the period of 1981–2006. Specifically, vegetation became increasingly degraded from the early 1980s when the land use policy—the Household Production Responsibility System—led to soaring stocking rates for about two decades. Since 2000, new institutional arrangements for grassland restoration and conservation helped curb and even reverse the increasing trend in stocking rates, resulting in large-scale vegetation improvements in the region. These results suggest that most of the degraded grasslands in the Xilingol region can recover through ecologically sound land use policies or institutional arrangements that keep stocking rates under control. Our study has also demonstrated that the RESTREND method is a useful tool to help identify human-induced vegetation changes in arid and semiarid landscapes where plant cover and production are highly coupled with precipitation. To effectively use the method, however, one needs to carefully deal with the problems of heterogeneity and scale in space and time, both of which may lead to erroneous results and misleading interpretations.


Land use and land cover change Arid landscape dynamics NDVI residuals trend (RESTREND) analysis Land use policy Grassland vegetation Inner Mongolia 



We thank Zhongbao Xin, Zhaopeng Qu, and Yongfei Bai for their assistance with the study. We gratefully acknowledge the Gimms Group and “China Meteorological Data Sharing Service System” for making their processed remote sensing data and meteorological data openly accessible. This research was supported in part by grants from the State Key Basic Research Development Program Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (2009CB421102) National Natural Science Foundation of China (30821062) Chinese Academy of Sciences (KZCX2-XB2-01-04), and US National Science Foundation (DEB-0618193).


  1. Archer ERM (2004) Beyond the “climate versus grazing” impasse: using remote sensing to investigate the effect of grazing system choice on vegetation cover in the eastern Karoo. J Arid Environ 57:381–408CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bai YF, Han XG, Wu J, Chen ZZ, Li LH (2004) Ecosystem stability and compensatory effects in the Inner Mongolia grassland. Nature 431(7005):181–184PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bai YF, Wu J, Pan QM, Huang JH, Wang QB, Li FS, Buyantuyev A, Han XG (2007) Positive linear relationship between productivity and diversity: evidence from the Eurasian Steppe. J Appl Ecol 44(5):1023–1034Google Scholar
  4. Bai YF, Wu J, Xing Q, Pan QM, Huang JH, Yang DL, Han XG (2008a) Primary production and rain use efficiency across a precipitation gradient on the Mongolia plateau. Ecology 89(8):2140–2153Google Scholar
  5. Bai ZG, Dent DL, Olsson L, Schaepman ME (2008b) Proxy global assessment of land degradation. Soil Use Manag 24(3):223–234CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brogaard S, Runnstrom M, Seaquist JW (2005) Primary production of Inner Mongolia, China, between 1982 and 1999 estimated by a satellite data-driven light use efficiency model. Glob Planet Change 45(4):313–332CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Burgi M, Straub A, Gimmi U, Salzmann D (2010) The recent landscape history of Limpach Valley, Switzerland: considering three empirical hypotheses on driving forces of landscape change. Landscape Ecol 25(2):287–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Buyantuyev A, Wu J (2009) Urbanization alters spatiotemporal patterns of ecosystem primary production: a case study of the Phoenix metropolitan region, USA. J Arid Environ 73(4–5):512–520CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Buyantuyev A, Wu J, Gries C (2007) Estimating vegetation cover in an urban environment based on Landsat ETM + imagery: a case study in Phoenix USA. Int J Remote Sens 28(1–2):269–291CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cao X, Gu ZH, Chen J, Shi PJ (2006) Analysis of human-induced steppe degradation based on remote sensing in Xilingole, inner Mongolia China. J Plant Ecol 30(2):268–277 (formerly Acta Phytoecol Sinica) (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  11. Cao SX, Chen L, Yu XX (2009) Impact of China’s Grain for Green Project on the landscape of vulnerable arid and semi-arid agricultural regions: a case study in northern Shaanxi Province. J Appl Ecol 46(3):536–543CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Evans J, Geerken R (2004) Discrimination between climate and human-induced dryland degradation. J Arid Environ 57(4):535–554CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fang JY, Piao SL, He JS, Ma WH (2004) Increasing terrestrial vegetation activity in China, 1982–1999. Sci China Ser C Life Sci 47(3):229–240 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  14. Fensholt R, Rasmussen K, Nielsen TT, Mbow C (2009) Evaluation of earth observation based long term vegetation trends—intercomparing NDVI time series trend analysis consistency of Sahel from AVHRR GIMMS, Terra MODIS and SPOT VGT data. Remote Sens Environ 113(9):1886–1898CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Geerken R, Ilaiwi M (2004) Assessment of rangeland degradation and development of a strategy for rehabilitation. Remote Sens Environ 90(4):490–504CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hardin G (1968) The tragedy of the commons. Science 162:1243–1248CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hay GJ, Marceau DJ, Dube P, Bouchard A (2001) A multiscale framework for landscape analysis: object-specific analysis and upscaling. Landscape Ecol 16(6):471–490CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hein L, De Ridder N (2006) Desertification in the Sahel: a reinterpretation. Glob Change Biol 12(5):751–758CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hou XY (2001) Vegetation Atlas of China. Science Press, BeijingGoogle Scholar
  20. Huang JH, Bai YF, Jiang Y (2009) Xilingol grassland, Inner Mongolia. In: Squires C, Lu X, Lu Q, Wang T, Y Y (eds) Rangeland degradation and recovery in China’s pastoral lands. CAB International, Oxfordshire, pp 120–135Google Scholar
  21. IPCC (2007) Climate change 2007: the physical science basis. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, GenevaGoogle Scholar
  22. Jelinski DE, Wu J (1996) The modifiable areal unit problem and implications for landscape ecology. Landscape Ecol 11(3):129–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Jiang GM, Han XG, Wu J (2006) Restoration and management of the inner Mongolia grassland require a sustainable strategy. Ambio 35(5):269–270PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Levick SR, Rogers KH (2011) Context-dependent vegetation dynamics in an African savanna. Landscape Ecol 26(4):515–528CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Li B (1962) Basic types and eco-geographic distribution of zonal vegetation in Inner Mongolia. Acta Sci Nat Univ Neimongol (4):42–72Google Scholar
  26. Li B (1979) General characteristics of the steppe vegetation in China. China’s Grasslands 1(1):2–12Google Scholar
  27. Li CS, Liang CZ, Wang W, Liu ZL (2000) Impact on landscape pattern with land exploitation in Ulagai steppe region, Inner Mongolia. J Arid Land Resour Environ 14(2):53–58 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  28. Li WJ, Ali SH, Zhang Q (2007) Property rights and grassland degradation: a study of the Xilingol pasture, Inner Mongolia China. J Environ Manag 85(2):461–470CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Li YH, Wang W, Liu ZL, Jiang S (2008) Grazing gradient versus restoration succession of Leymus chinensis (Trin.) Tzvel. grassland in Inner Mongolia. Restor Ecol 16(4):572–583CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lin Y, Han GD, Zhao ML, Chang SX (2010) Spatial vegetation patterns as early signs of desertification: a case study of a desert steppe in Inner Mongolia, China. Landscape Ecol 25(10):1519–1527CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Liu Z (1960) General vegetation pattern of the Inner Mongolia Steppe region. Acta Sci Nat Univ Neimongol 2(2):47-74Google Scholar
  32. Piao SL, Mohammat A, Fang JY, Cai Q, Feng JM (2006) NDVI-based increase in growth of temperate grasslands and its responses to climate changes in China. Glob Environ Change Hum Policy Dimens 16(4):340–348CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Pinzon J, Brown ME, Tucker CJ (2005) Satellite time series correction of orbital drift artifacts using empirical mode decomposition. In: Huang N (ed) Hilbert-Huang transform: introduction and applications. World Scientific Publishing Company, Singapore, pp 167–186Google Scholar
  34. Prince SD, Wessels KJ, Tucker CJ, Nicholson SE (2007) Desertification in the Sahel: a reinterpretation of a reinterpretation. Glob Change Biol 13(7):1308–1313CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Reynolds JF, Stafford Smith DM, Lambin EF, Turner BL, Mortimore M, Batterbury SPJ, Downing TE, Dowlatabadi H, Fernandez RJ, Herrick JE, Huber-Sannwald E, Jiang H, Leemans R, Lynam T, Maestre FT, Ayarza M, Walker B (2007) Global desertification: building a science for dryland development. Science 316(5826):847–851Google Scholar
  36. Safriel U, Adeel Z (2005) Dryland systems. In: Hassan R, Scholes RJ, Ash N (eds) Ecosystems and human well-being: current state and trends. Island Press, Washington, DC, pp 625–628Google Scholar
  37. Schönbach P, Wan H, Schiborra A, Gierus M, Bai YF, Müller K, Glindemann T, Wang C, Susenbeth A, Taube F (2009) Short-term management and stocking rate effects of grazing sheep on herbage quality and productivity of Inner Mongolia steppe. Crop Pasture Sci 60(10):963–974Google Scholar
  38. Sohl TL, Loveland TR, Sleeter BM, Sayler KL, Barnes CA (2010) Addressing foundational elements of regional land use change forecasting. Landscape Ecol 25(2):233–247CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Tong C, Wu J, Yong S, Yang J, Yong W (2004) A landscape-scale assessment of steppe degradation in the Xilin River Basin, Inner Mongolia, China. J Arid Environ 59:133–149CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Tucker CJ, Pinzon JE, Brown ME (2004) Global inventory modeling and mapping studies. global land cover facility. University of Maryland, College ParkGoogle Scholar
  41. Tucker C, Pinzon J, Brown M, Slayback D, Pak E, Mahoney R, Vermote E, Nazmi ES (2005) An extended AVHRR 8 km NDVI data set compatible with MODIS and SPOT vegetation NDVI data. Int J Remote Sens 26(20):4485–4498Google Scholar
  42. Wehrden HV, Wesche K (2007) Relationships between climate, productivity and vegetation in southern Mongolian drylands. Basic Appl Dryland Res 1(2):100–120Google Scholar
  43. Wessels KJ (2009) Comments on ‘Proxy global assessment of land degradation’ by Bai et al. (2008). Soil Use Manag 25(1):91–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Wessels KJ, Prince SD, Malherbe J, Small J, Frost PE, VanZyl D (2007) Can human-induced land degradation be distinguished from the effects of rainfall variability? a case study in South Africa. J Arid Environ 68(2):271–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Wu J (1999) Hierarchy and scaling: extrapolating information along a scaling ladder. Canadian J Remote Sens 25(4):367–380Google Scholar
  46. Wu J (2004) Effects of changing scale on landscape pattern analysis: scaling relations. Landscape Ecol 19:125–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Wu J (2007) Scale and scaling: A cross-disciplinary perspective. In: Wu J, Hobbs R (eds) Key topics in landscape ecology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 115–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Wu J, Hobbs R (2002) Key issues and research priorities in landscape ecology: an idiosyncratic synthesis. Landscape Ecol 17(4):355–365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Wu J, Hobbs R (2007) Landscape ecology: The-state-of-the-science. In: Wu J, Hobbs R (eds) Key topics in landscape ecology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 271–287CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Wu J, Loucks OL (1992) Xilingele (The Xilingol Grassland). In: The US National Research Council (ed) Grasslands and grassland sciences in Northern China. National Academy Press, Washington,DC pp 67–84Google Scholar
  51. Wu J, Loucks OL (1995) From balance of nature to hierarchical patch dynamics: a paradigm shift in ecology. Q Rev Biol 70(4):439–466CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Wulf M, Sommer M, Schmidt R (2010) Forest cover changes in the Prignitz region (NE Germany) between 1790 and 1960 in relation to soils and other driving forces. Landscape Ecol 25(2):299–313CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Yang X, Ding Z, Fan X, Zhou Z, Ma N (2007) Processes and mechanisms of desertification in northern China during the last 30 years, with a special reference to the Hunshandake Sandy Land, eastern Inner Mongolia. Catena 71(1):2–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Zhang Q, Li WJ (2008) Policy analysis in grassland management of xilingol prefecture,inner mongolia. In: Cathy L, Schaaf T (eds) The future of drylands: international scientific conference desertification and drylands research. tunis (Tunisia), 19–21 June 2006. Springer, pp 493–505Google Scholar
  55. Zhao HL, Zhao XY, Zhou RL, Zhang TH, Drake S (2005) Desertification processes due to heavy grazing in sandy rangeland Inner Mongolia. J Arid Environ 62(2):309–319CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Zhao JZ, Luo QS, Deng HB, Yan Y (2008) Opportunities and challenges of sustainable agricultural development in China. Philos Trans R Soc B Biol Sci 363(1492):893–904CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Vegetation and Environmental Change, Institute of BotanyThe Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.Graduate University of the Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.School of Life Sciences and Global Institute of SustainabilityArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  4. 4.Sino-US Center for Conservation, Energy, and Sustainability ScienceInner Mongolia UniversityHohhotChina

Personalised recommendations