Traditional Livelihoods, Conservation & Meadow Ecology in Jiuzhaigou National Park

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Traditional Livelihoods, Conservation and Meadow Ecology in Jiuzhaigou National Park, Sichuan, China

Urgenson L, Schmidt AH, Combs J, Harrell S, Hinckley T, Yang Q, Ma Z, Yongxian L, Hongliang L, MacIver A
Hum Ecol. 2014 Jun;42(3):481-491
PubMed Central PMC4474163

Jiuzhaigou Valley National Park, Sichuan, China, Wǔhuā Hǎi rize valley 日则沟
Wǔhuā Hǎi Rize Valley 日则沟, Jiuzhaigou National Park, Sichuan, China [Source: Wikimedia Commons, chensiyuan]
Investigators from the University of Washington, Oberlin College, Jiuzhaigou National Park, Aarhus University, Sichuan University and University of Chicago employed archaeological excavation, ethnographic interviews, remote sensing and vegetation surveys to examine the implications of two national reforestation programs to increase forest cover and exclude local land use in this UNESCO World Heritage Site and Man and Biosphere Reserve.

From the Introduction:

“Despite international recognition that biodiversity conservation should respect and account for indigenous cultures, the role of human land-uses in preserving ecosystems is a subject of debate, with practical implications for management of protected areas. On one side, land-use is viewed as outside the natural range of variability and thus detrimental to biodiversity conservation. On the other side, landscapes are portrayed as products of human-environment interactions and human disturbance as potentially beneficial to biodiversity. In reality, the extent to which land-use either aids or inhibits conservation depends on the nature and extent of human activities and their historic role in shaping the distributions of species and habitats. Understanding these linkages allows us to evaluate conservation practices critically and to formulate management policies that support biological diversity and local cultures.”

On the basis of archaeological excavations, ethnographic interviews, remote sensing and vegetation surveys, the team found that the landscape of Jiuzhaigou National Park is the product of more than 2,000 years of human-ecosystem interactions that may have enriched biodiversity and ecosystem services through the creation of meadow patches in a landscape dominated by forests. In their conclusion, the authors propose that governments and NGOs rethink conservation that demands removal of human land-use in order to return the land to a “natural” state:

“The results of this interdisciplinary study suggest that long-term human land-use, including traditional-scale agriculture and pastoralism, created and maintained montane meadows in [Jiuzhaigou National Park]. The cessation of human land-use and intentional planting of trees have resulted in substantial loss of meadows with potentially profound implications for the Park’s conservation aims. Continued loss of these meadow habitats may result in changes in ecological systems, with lower diversity, fewer ecosystem services, and loss of cultural meaning and traditional knowledge over time.

Our findings from Jiuzhaigou have more general application for conservation practice. The inhabitants of Jiuzhaigou, as in many other areas, have lived as part of the cultural landscape over millennia, and in doing so have significantly shaped the patterns of biodiversity that we see on the landscape. This leads us to rethink conservation that demands removal of human land-use in order to return it to a “natural” state. Our findings are relevant to conservation in protected areas where there is an interest in maintaining existing ecological and cultural structures.”

Read the complete article at PubMed Central.

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