HomeDiscoveryNatural Capital ProjectResearch collaboration with China elevates biodiversity and ecosystem services

Research collaboration with China elevates biodiversity and ecosystem services

With a growing population, rapid urbanization and environmental degradation from economic development, China faces a number of complex, wicked problems. With the help of scientists at the Natural Capital Project (NatCap), however, an ongoing partnership is helping the country’s leaders solve these pressing environmental challenges.

New research from Steve Polasky, Regents Professor and the Fesler-Lampert Professor of Ecological/Environmental Economics at the University of Minnesota and a Fellow of the Institute on the Environment (IonE); Gretchen Daily, professor of Biology and Bing Professor in Environmental Science at Stanford University; and collaborators from the Chinese Academy of Sciences; assesses how protected areas can protect China’s rich but threatened biodiversity, while elevating the value that these natural landscapes provide to people.

This research, published recently in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, identifies locations where China can protect key ecological functions of its landscapes.

“Our partners started asking, ‘Where does biodiversity matter for how ecosystems function within China?’ Essentially, we wanted to better understand which lands would be most valuable, if set aside for biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services,” says Polasky.

The collaboration identified key functions that nature provides to the people of China including flood control, sandstorm control, provision of clean, abundant water, and stabilization of soil and biodiversity, and then quantified these functions using InVEST — a suite of open-source ecosystem services models developed by scientists at the Natural Capital Project.

NatCap, co-founded by Polasky and Daily more than a decade ago, seeks to identify and conserve areas of high ecological value across the globe, elevating the value of natural capital and the benefits nature provides to people – otherwise known as ecosystem services – into decision-making.

Using InVEST tools in their recent analysis, Polasky, Daily and their fellow research team mapped which areas of China provided the most ecosystem benefits, including sections of the Yangtze River, the Min-Zhe-Gan, Wuyi and Nanling mountains and portions of the Yunnan province in the southern region – lending support for policy that would expand the country’s nature preserves in these areas.

This proposed park system is only part of China’s robust environmental and sustainable development goals that the ongoing research collaboration has assessed and continues to explore. In the past decade, China has invested over $100 billion in conservation through efforts such as the Sloping Land Conversion Program, and the country is a leader in eco-compensation programs that pay people to protect or restore ecosystems at the local level. The country is also supporting the development and testing of a new metric — called Gross Ecosystem Product (GEP) — that measures the contribution of nature to human well-being.

“We are exploring how to implement a monetary measure of ecosystem performance or ‘GEP’ – a single, country-level indicator of the flows and value of ecosystem services and natural capital,” explains Polasky. “This measure can then be used to track and assess how ecosystem value varies year-to-year or across regions.”

“China is going further than any other place in so many ways. They are really trying to harmonize local well-being with long-term societal security and prosperity,” Daily says of the country’s goals to leverage practical approaches to guide land use, infrastructure investment and siting, urban planning, investment in water supplies, and other realms of decision-making.

“Our collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences has been a great example of ecosystem services information in action,” concludes Polasky. “Our partners are able to provide relevant analyses to a receptive government audience, who then use this science to craft large-scale, informed and evidence-based policies at a national scale.”

Co-authors of the recent paper include: Weihua Xu, Yi Xiao, Jingjing Zhang, Lu Zhang, Hua Zheng Ling Jiang, Yang Xiao, Xuewei Shi, Enming Rao, Fei Lu, Xiaoke Wang and Zhiyun Ouyang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences; Wu Yang, Zhejiang University; Vanessa Hull and Jianguo Liu, Michigan State University; Zhi Wang, Ministry of Environmental Protection, Nanjing; Stephen Polasky, University of Minnesota; and Gretchen Daily, Stanford University and Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment.

Read more about this study and collaboration in the original press release here, from Stanford University.

The University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment is leading the way toward a future in which people and the environment prosper together. For more information, visit environment.umn.edu.

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