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Extending the timescale and range of ecosystem services through paleoenvironmental analyses, exemplified in the lower Yangtze basin

Extending the timescale and range of ecosystem services through paleoenvironmental analyses, exemplified in the lower Yangtze basin

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Authors

  • John A. Dearing
  • Xiangdong Yang
  • Xuhui Dong
  • Enlou Zhang
  • Xu Chen
  • Peter G. Langdon
  • Ke Zhang
  • Weiguo Zhang
  • Terence P. Dawson

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Info

Original languageEnglish
PagesE1111-E1120
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Journal publication date1 May 2012
Journal number18
Volume109
DOIs
StatePublished

Abstract

In China, and elsewhere, long-term economic development and poverty alleviation need to be balanced against the likelihood of ecological failure. Here, we show how paleoenvironmental records can provide important multidecadal perspectives on ecosystem services (ES). More than 50 different paleoenvironmental proxy records can be mapped to a wide range of ES categories and subcategories. Lake sediments are particularly suitable for reconstructing records of regulating services, such as soil stability, sediment regulation, and water purification, which are often less well monitored. We demonstrate the approach using proxy records from two sets of lake sediment sequences in the lower Yangtze basin covering the period 1800-2006, combined with recent socioeconomic and climate records. We aggregate the proxy records into a regional regulating services index to show that rapid economic growth and population increases since the 1950s are strongly coupled to environmental degradation. Agricultural intensification from the 1980s onward has been the main driver for reducing rural poverty but has led to an accelerated loss of regulating services. In the case of water purification, there is strong evidence that a threshold has been transgressed within the last two decades. The current steep trajectory of the regulating services index implies that regional land management practices across a large agricultural tract of eastern China are critically unsustainable.

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