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LCLUC Synthesis: Ecosystem-Society Interactions on a Changing Mongolian Plateau

A collaboration between Michigan State University and University of Michigan

Project Overview

The overall objective of this project is to synthesize our data, knowledge, and quantitative models on ecosystem and social resilience to the changing climate and dynamic socioeconomic pressures placed on these fragile ecosystems. This will be done by modeling natural system (NS) and human system (HS) processes and dynamics as well as the interactions and feedbacks among them. We will use multiple data sources to document human and natural dynamics at multiple temporal and spatial scales for the Plateau, where IM and MG have had similar climates, ecosystems, cultures, and traditions, but different governments, land uses, economic development, and demographic changes in the past.

Three specific tasks will be performed to achieve this objective:

  1. Seamless integration of the datasets (i.e., data synthesis)
  2. Analysis to achieve knowledge synthesis
  3. Forecast synthesis following sound scenario development (i.e., modeling synthesis)

Conceptual Framework & Hypothesis

The overarching hypothesis of this study is that, while climate change produced uneven pressures among ecosystems and societies across the plateau over time, the socioeconomic changes and their disparities among administrative units further escalated the complex causal relationships among the elements of the NS and HS affecting ecosystem health and society performance.

We have the following hypotheses:

  1. The effects of land cover change (LCC) are stronger than climate change for the CNH systems on the Mongolian Plateau by natural (i.e., biome) or by human (e.g., county) definition.
  2. Biophysical and socioeconomic forces driving the CNH changes play unequal roles between MG and IM and over time.
  3. The driving mechanisms for changes in CNH function has shifted during the past 60 years, with  1980 as the switching point thereafter there have been much greater changes in IM than those in MG because the market economy and economic reform were adopted earlier in IM of China than in MG.  However, the relative importance of socioeconomic forces will gradually decrease in IM while they continue to increase in MG  Additionally, both the changes and the regulating mechanisms vary by biome because of contrasting resource limitations.

The contrasting distributions of four demonstrative variables on the Plateau showing the mismatches in space and time

CNH conceptual framework to understand the drivers, mechanisms, and consequences of socioeconomic and physical changes on the functional changes of the HS and NS on the Plateau

The working flowchart for synthesizing the CNH systems in Mongolia plateau at different hierarchical levels of administrative and the ecological hierarchies.

Three major research tasks, linkages, and expected outcomes of proposed synthesis for the Mongolian Plateau.

This project is supported by NASA


  • LCLUC Synthesis Workshop: Ecosystem-Society Interactions on a Changing Mongolian Plateau. Hosted by University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI: May 11–13, 2016.
  • Workshop in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia: June 18-21, 2014 (Agenda)
  • LCLUC Synthesis: Ecosystem-Society Interactions on a Changing Mongolian Plateau, (Workshop Pages)
  • MSU- UM Project Meeting: September 30, 2014 (Agenda)
  • MSU- UM Project Meeting: October 27, 2014 (Agenda)
  • MSU- UM Project Meeting: December 22, 2014 (Agenda)

Team Members

The Landscape Ecology and Ecosystem Science (LEES) Lab | Michigan State University
Dr. Jiquan Chen Professor, Principal Investigator
Dr. Ranjeet John Research Associate
Dr. Changliang Shao Postdoctoral Research Associate
Hogeun Park PhD Student

The School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE) | University of Michigan
Dr. Daniel G. Brown Professor, Principal Investigator
Dr. Ginger Allington Postdoctoral Research Associate
Wei Li Visiting Scholar, PhD Student


  • Fan, P. J. Chen, R. John. Urban landscape and environmental change during the economic transition on the Mongolian Plateau: Hohhot and Ulaanbaatar. Environmental Research (in press).
  • John, R., Chen, J., Kim, Y., Ouyang, Z., Xiao, J., Park, H., Shao, C., Zhang, Y., Amarjargal, A., and Qi, J. Differentiating anthropogenic modification and precipitation-driven change on vegetation productivity on the Mongolian Plateau, Landscape Ecology (DOI: 10.1007/s10980-015-0261-x).
  • Chen, J., J. R. John, C. Shao, Yi, Fan, Y. Zhang, A. Amarjargalj, D. Brown, J. Qi, J. Han, R. Lafortezza, and G. Dong. Policy shifts influence the functional changes of the CNH systems on the Mongolian Plateau. Environmental Research Letters (accepted).
  • 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 Mongolian Plateau. Bioscience. 65(6): 559-570
  • Chen, J. and Y Liu. 2014. Coupled natural and human systems: a landscape ecology perspective. Landscape Ecology 29(10): 1641-1644.
  • Liu, D., Y. Chen, W. Cai, W. Dong, J. Xiao, J. Chen, H. Zhang, J. Xia, and W. Yuan. 2014. The contribution of China's Grain for Green Program to carbon Sequestration. Landscape Ecology 29(10): 1675–1688.
  • Fan, P., Y. Xie, J. Qi, J. Chen, and H. Huang. 2014. Vulnerability of a coupled natural and human system in a changing environment: dynamics of Lanzhou’s urban landscape. Landscape Ecology 29(10): 1709–1723.


Center for Global Change and Earth Observations

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Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48823