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Coupled Human and Natural Systems on the Mongolain Plateau

Project Overview

The Mongolian Plateau includes two regions with similar ecological systems but contrasting socioeconomic systems: Mongolia and Inner Mongolia. The Plateau has increasingly received worldwide attention due its rapid biophysical and socioeconomic changes. Building upon intensive previous work in the region, the purpose of this study is to bring together a multidisciplinary research team to examine and model the changes of the natural and human systems on the Plateau as well as the critical feedbacks between them over recent decades.

The project team hypothesizes that while climate change has created pressure on ecosystems and societies in the Plateau, the distinct socioeconomic conditions and development paths of the different administrative units involved have also had a significant effect on the relationships and feedbacks within the human and natural systems. The team will also test the hypothesis that the human influences on the systems exceeded those of the biophysical changes but the significance varies in time, location, and ecological setting.

The five major underlying processes studied for the natural systems will include the changes in water fluxes, radiation, soil heat fluxes, primary production, and carbon loss, while the five processes for the human systems are economic growth, population growth, urbanization, technology advancement, and lifestyle change. The system functions and changes will be examined by the life expectancy index, income index, education index, net primary production, evapotranspiration, and ecosystem carbon loss.

More importantly, the project team will focus on the relationships between these functions, such as the productivity vs. income index. The connection between the human and natural systems will be viewed through the lens of land use cover and land use change.


The progression of causes and consequences will be examined at various levels through three tasks.

  1. Modeling household behaviors and surrounding ecosystems
  2. Studying divergent trajectories for Mongolian systems from past to future
  3. Understanding the vulnerabilities within the system and possible future adaptation strategies toward a sustainable Plateau. The multiple dimensions of the systems will be integrated together systemically, holistically, and across disciplines.


The results of this study will have global implications, especially to this and other regions that are vulnerable to climate and socioeconomic changes. The project will strengthen interdisciplinary collaboration between ecology, economics, anthropology, sociology, and demography and will provide a great opportunity for junior scholars as well as graduate students to conduct interdisciplinary research.

Data and findings will be disseminated through a series of transformative activities that benefit the people on the Plateau, students in the US, China, and Mongolia, the scientific community, and stakeholders and policymakers worldwide. Recognizing past difficulties in accessing the data for the Plateau, the project team will first develop a comprehensive database that can be shared with the entire scientific community.

Intensive training classes and cross-campus courses will be made available through a virtual classroom using state-of-the-art cyber technology to link researchers and students in the US, Inner Mongolia, and Mongolia. Researchers will deliver invited guest lectures at least twice per term via the virtual classroom and students from the participating universities will be simultaneously exposed to diverse views from each other?s institutions. These lectures will also be openly available to other institutions.

This project is supported by NSF CNH

Project news

In the summer of 2016, Drs. Jiquan Chen and Ranjeet John led teams in collecting new data from the Mongolian Plateau. The sample sites stretched as far as Inner Mongolia, China, and the Gobi Desert and Western Aimags (provinces) of Mongolia. To view images collected during these trips, view our data page or click on the images below.

Images of the Fieldwork in Mongolia

Conceptual Framework and Hypothesis

Our CNH conceptual framework (pictured above) demonstrates the drivers, mechanisms, and consequences of socioeconomic and physical changes on the functional changes of the HS and NS on the Mongolian Plateau; where IM and MG have headed into different directions over the past 70 years after separation.

LUC and LCC will be considered as the intermediate variables facilitating the causal relationships as well as the foundation for the trajectories. A particular technical challenge is to understand the impact of ecosystem/societal functions from coupled socioeconomic and biophysical changes where the HS is often delineated by administrative boundaries while NS is not (Zhen et al. 2010).

These differences will likely yield different land use among the units and consequently alter the functions and dynamics of ecosystems, which, in turn, will have direct feedback on the socioeconomic development. Using the livestock statistics of IM and MG as an example, major policy changes in both regions appear to be responsible for the fluctuation in the livestock population.

Publications

Journal Articles

  1. Fernández-Giméneza, M.E., N.H. Venable, J. Angerer, S.R. Fassnacht, R.S. Reidb, j. Khishigbayar. (2017). Exploring linked ecological and cultural tipping points in Mongolia. Anthropocene 17: 46-69.
  2. Wan, N. F., J. Chen, J. X. Jiang, and B. Li. (2017). A conceptual framework for ecosystem management based on tradeoff analysis. Ecological Indicators 75: 352–361.
  3. Gao, L., Kinnucan, H., Zhang, Y., Qiao, G. (2016). The effects of a subsidy for grassland protection on livestock numbers, grazing intensity, and herders’ income in Inner Mongolia. Land Use Policy 54: 302-312.
  4. Shao, C., J. Chen, L. Li, G. Dong, J. Han, M. Abraha, R. John. (2016). Grazing effects on energy fluxes in a desert steppe on the Mongolian Plateau. Ecological Applications doi: 10.1002/eap.1459.
  5. Lafortezza, R. and J. Chen. (2016). The provision of ecosystem services in response to global change: evidences and applications. Environmental Research 147: 576-579.
  6. Han, J., J. Chen, L. Li, H. Chu, Y. Miao, and S. Chen (2016). The Effects of grazing and watering on ecosystem CO2 fluxes vary by community phenology. Environmental Research 144: 64-71.
  7. Qu, L., J. Chen, G. Dong, S. Jiang, L. Li, C. Shao, and J. Guo (2016). Heat waves reduce ecosystem carbon sink strength in a Eurasian meadow steppe. Environmental Research 144: 39-48.
  8. Fan, P., J. Chen, R. John (2016). Urban landscape and environmental change during the economic transition on the Mongolian Plateau: Hohhot and Ulaanbaatar. Environmental Research 144: 96-112.
  9. Fan, Y., J. Chen, Shirkey G., R. John, R. Wu, P. Hogeun, C. Shao (2016) Applications of structural equation modeling (SEM) in ecological studies: an updated review. Ecological Processes, 5:19.
  10. John, R., J. Chen, Y. Kim, Z. Ouyang, H. Park, J. Xiao, C. Shao, A. Amarjargal, Y. Zhang, O. Bakshishig and J. Qi (2016). Differentiating anthropogenic modification and precipitation-driven change on vegetation productivity on the Mongolian Plateau. Landscape Ecology 31: 547-566, doi: 10.1007/s10980-015-0261-x.s
  11. Chen, J., R. John, C. Shao, Y. Fan, Y. Zhang, A. Amarjargal, D. Brown, J. Qi, J. Han, R. Lafortezza, G. Dong, and L. Linghao (2015). Policy shifts influence the functional changes of the CHN systems on the Mongolian plateau. Environmental Research letters, doi:10.1088/1748-9326/10/8/085003.
  12. Amartuvshin, A., Y. Zhang, and J. Chen. (2015). How does Local Mining Impact on Rural Immigration: Case of Mongolia. Proceedings of the Trans-disciplinary Research Conference: Building Resilience of Mongolian Rangelands, Ulaanbaatar Mongolia, June 9-10, 2015.
  13. Chen, J. (2015). Editorial: Coupled human and natural system. BioScience 65(6); 539.
  14. Chen, J., R. John, Y. Zhang, C. Shao, D. G. Brown, O. Batkhishig, A. Amarjargal, Z. Ouyang, G. Dong, D. Wang, and J. Qi (2015). Divergences of Two Coupled Human and Natural Systems on the Mongolia Plateau. BioScience 65(6): 559-570.
  15. Han, J., J. Chen, J. Xia, and L. Li (2015). Grazing and precipitation produce complex consequences on phenological successes and processes in a desert steppe. Plant Ecology 216:599–613.
  16. Liu, Y. Q. Zhuang, Z. Pan, D. Miralles, D. Kicklighter, Q. Zhu, Y. He, J. Chen, D. Niyogi, N. Tchebakova, A. Sirin, and J. Melillo (2015). Evapotranspiration in Northern Eurasia: Impact of forcing uncertainties on terrestrial ecosystem model estimates, J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 120: doi:10.1002/2014JD022531.
  17. Liu, Y., Q. Zhuang, Z. Pan, N. Tchebakova, D. Kicklighter, D. Miralles, J. Chen, A. Sirin, and J. Melillo (2014). Responses of evapotranspiration and water availability to the changing climate in Northern Eurasia. Climatic Change 126:413–427.
  18. Shao, C., L Li, G. Dong, and J. Chen (2014). Spatial variation of net radiation and its contribution to energy balance closure in grassland ecosystems. Ecological Processes 3(1): 1-11.

  19. Conference Presentations, Papers, and Other Materials

  20. Chen, J. , Li, T., Ouyang, Z., Giannico, V., Fan, P., and Lafortezza, R. Permanent physical and social landmarks constrain urban landscape development and function in culturally contrasting societies 4/10/17, USIALE-2017, Boston, MA.
  21. Park, H., Fan, P., John, R., and Chen, J. Urban sprawl, informal settlements, and inequality: spatiotemporal patterns and drivers of Ger districts in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 4/10/17, USIALE-2017, Boston, MA.
  22. Chen, J. Ecosystems and Societies in Asian Drylands. Beijing Agricultural Univ, 7/15/2016
  23. Chen, J. Renewed Challenges: People vs Environment. Shanxi University, 6/20/2016
  24. Chen, J. The CNH dynamics and LULCC on Mongolia Plateau. The CEME Workshop, Harvard Forest, 2/5-6, 2016.
  25. John, R., Kim, Y., & Shao, C. (2015). GC11I: Climate-Vegetation Interaction and Land Cover/Land Use Change in Semi-Arid Grassland Ecosystems II Posters, AGU Fall 2015 Meeting, Dec. 14–18, San Francisco, CA.
  26. John, R., Chen, J., Kim, Y., Ouyang, Z., Park, H., & Shao, C. (2015). Remote Sensing-based estimates of herbaceous aboveground biomass on the Mongolian Plateau. GC13B-1136 in GC13B: Climate-Vegetation Interaction and Land Cover/Land Use Change in Semi-Arid Grassland Ecosystems II Posters, AGU Fall 2015 Meeting, Dec. 14–18, San Francisco, CA.
  27. Shao, C., Chen, J., Li, L., John, R., & Ouyang, Z. (2015). Grazing Effects on Water Use Efficiency on a Mongolian Desert Steppe. GC13B-1137 in GC13B: Climate-Vegetation Interaction and Land Cover/Land Use Change in Semi-Arid Grassland Ecosystems II Posters, AGU Fall 2015 Meeting, Dec. 14–18, San Francisco, CA.
  28. Chen, J., Ouyang, Z., John, R., Henebry, G., Xie, Y., de Beurs, K., Fan, Y., Shao, C., Qi, J., Wu, J. & Li, Y. (2015). Regulations of evapotranspiration and ecosystem productivity from biophysical and human drivers in drylands Northern Eurasia. GC31B-1174 in GC31B: Environmental, Socioeconomic, and Climatic Changes in Northern Eurasia and Their Feedbacks to the Global Earth System and Society I Posters, AGU Fall 2015 Meeting, Dec. 14–18, San Francisco, CA.
  29. John, R., Chen, J., Shao, C., Kim, Y., Ou-Yang, Z., Xiao, J., Park, H., et al. (2015). Differentiating between anthropogenic modification and climate change using long–term vegetation index trends adjusted for precipitation on the Mongolian plateau.. Building Resilience of Mongolian Rangelands Conference. Blue Sky Hotel, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
  30. Shao, C., Chen, J., John, R., Li, L., Dong, G., Ochirbat, B. (2015). Grazing effects on energy fluxes in a desert steppe on the Mongolian Plateau.. Building Resilience of Mongolian Rangelands Conference. Blue Sky Hotel, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
  31. Fan, P., Chen, J., John, R., and Park, H. (2015). Urban landscape and environment change during the economic transition in Mongolian Plateau: A comparative study of Hohhot and Ulaanbaatar, 1990-2010. Association of American Geographers 2015 Annual Meeting. Chicago, USA.
  32. Chen, J., John, R.., Brown, D., Shao, C., Allington, A., Zhuang, Q., Xiao, J., Xie, Y., Sun, G., Fan, P., & Qi, J. (2015). LCLUC Synthesis: Ecosystem-Society Interactions on a Changing Mongolian Plateau.. NASA Carbon Science and Ecoystems joint science workshop. Marriott Conference Center, Maryland, US.
  33. Fan, P., Chen, J., John, R. (2015). Urban landscape and environment change during the economic transition in Mongolian Plateau: A comparative study of Hohhot and Ulaanbaatar, 1990-2010.. NASA Carbon Science and Ecoystems joint science workshop. Marriott Conference Center, Maryland, US.
  34. Chen, J., Ouyang, Z., John, R., Dong, G., Fan, P., (2015). Co-Evolutions of Ecosystems, Societies, and Economy in Dryland Asia.. EGU General Assembly 2015. Vienna, Austria.
  35. John, R., Chen, J., Kim, Y., Ouyang, Z., Xiao, J, Shao, C., & Batkishig, O. (2014). Differentiating between Land Use and Climate-driven Change using Long–term Vegetation Index Trends adjusted for Precipitation on the Mongolian Plateau.. AGU Fall 2014 Meeting. San Francisco, CA, US.
  36. Zhang, Y., Amarjargal, A. (2015). Evolution of Common Resource Tenure and Governing: Evidence from Pastureland in Mongolia Plateau.. Trans-disciplinary Research Conference: Building Resilience of Mongolian Rangelands. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
  37. Ge, W., Kinnucan, H. (2015). The Influence of the Booming Mining Industry on the Agricultural Sector in Mongolia.. Trans-disciplinary Research Conference: Building Resilience of Mongolian Rangelands. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
  38. Xu, Y., Zhang, Y., Gao, L., Qiao, G., Chen, J. (2015). To fence or not to fence? Perceptions and attitudes of herders in Inner Mongolia.. Trans-disciplinary Research Conference: Building Resilience of Mongolian Rangelands. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
  39. Amarjargal, A., Zhang, Y., Chen, J. (2015). How does local mining impact on rural immigration: Case of Mongolia. Trans-disciplinary Research Conference: Building Resilience of Mongolian Rangelands. Ulaanbaatar. Mongolia.
  40. John, R., J. Chen, Z. Yang, J. Xiao, M. Abd Salam M. El Vilaly, A. Samanta, S. Ganguly, O. Batkhishig and G. Zhang. (2013). Long term trends in GPP and ET on the Mongolian Plateau in context of climate and land cover/land use change.. 2013 AGU Fall Meeting. San Francisco, California, US.
  41. Chen, J. (2013). Harmonizing People and Nature on Mongolia Plateau and Elsewhere.. Invited Speaker, Seminar. Department of Geography, University of Toronto, CA.
  42. Chen, J. (2013). Harmonizing People and Nature on Mongolia Plateau and Elsewhere. Invited Speaker, Seminar. Michigan State University, Michigan, US.
  43. Chen, J. (2014). Human and Nature Systems on Mongolia Plateau: The Renewed Challenge for Science & Societies.. Future Earth: MAIRS Open Science Conference. Beijing, China.
  44. Chen, J. (2014). Harmonizing Humans and Nature for the Changing Globe.. The Weaver Lecture Series. Auburn University, Alabama, US.
  45. Zhang, Y. (2014). Land use/ land ownership change in the process of rural-urban integration. Speaker, Seminar. Inner Mongolia Agricultural University, Hohhot.

Team Members

Name
Role
Contact
Dr. Jiquan Chen Professor, PD/PI jqchen@msu.edu
Dr. Ranjeet John Co PD/PI ranjeetj@msu.edu
Dr. Deirdre Jones Co PD/PI deirdre.jones@utoledo.edu
Dr. Henry Kinnucan Co PD/PI kinnuhw@auburn.edu
Dr. Yaoqi Zhang Co PD/PI yaoqi.zhang@auburn.edu
Dr. Zutao Ouyang Research Associate zutao.ouyang@gmail.com
Dr. Liping Gao Research Associate lzg0005@tigermail.auburn.edu
Yecheng Xu PhD Student yzx0013@auburn.edu
Yi (Angela) Fan PhD Student fanyi2@msu.edu
Hogeun Park PhD Student parkhoge@msu.edu
Wei Ge PhD Student wzg0015@tigermail.auburn.edu
Juanjuan Han PhD Student hailangnihao@163.com

Contact

Center for Global Change and Earth Observations

202 Manly Miles Bldg. 1405 South Harrison Road
Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48823

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