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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


  • Allington, G.R.H. and D.G. Brown. Leveraging a time series of remotely sensed data to better characterize the dynamics of grassland degradation and restoration on the Mongolian Plateau. In Preparation for Ecosphere.
  • Allington, G.R., Fernandez-Gimenez, M., Chen, J., Brown, D.G. Using ‘Story and Simulation’ to Uncover Drivers and Possible Futures of a Grassland Ecosystem. Revised and Resubmitted for Ecology and Society.
  • Allington, G. R., W. Li, & D.G. Brown (2017). Urbanization and environmental policy effects on the future availability of grazing resources on the Mongolian Plateau: Modeling socio-environmental system dynamics. Environmental Science & Policy 68: 35-46.
  • Amarjargal A., Y. Zhang, 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. Pages 195-199.
  • Chen, J. (2015). Editorial: Coupled human and natural system. BioScience 65(6); 539.
  • 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.
  • Chen, J., R. John, C. Shao., Y. Fan, Y. Zhang, A. Amarjargal, D. Brown, J. Qi, J. Han, R. Lafortezza, G. Dong & L. Li (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.
  • Fan, P., Chen, J., John, R. (2016). Urban landscape and environment change during the economic transition in the Mongolian Plateau: A comparative study of Hohhot and Ulaanbaatar, 1990–2010. Environment Research, 120, 96-112.
  • Fan, Y, J. Chen, G. Shirkey, R. John, R. Wu, H. Park, C. Shao. (2016). Applications of structural equation modeling (SEM) in ecological research: An updated review. Ecological Processes 5:19.
  • Huettmann, F, J. Chen, H. park, C. Shao, R. John, et al. The Mongolian Plateau as a global showcase for big data resources: a first compilation and assessment of 450 dataset. ESSD, in preparation.
  • Giannico, V., J. Chen, C. Shao, R. John, Z. Ouyang, and R. Lafortezza. Contributions of landscape heterogeneity within the footprint of eddy-covariance towers to flux measurements. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, near submission.
  • Groisman, P.Y.., H.H. Shugart, D. Kicklighter, G. Henebry, N. Tchebakova, Sh. Maksyutov, E. Monier, G. Gutman, S. Gulev, J. Qi, A. Prishchepov, E. Kukavskaya, B. Porfiriev, A. Shiklomanov, T. Loboda, N. Shiklomanov, S. Nghiem, K. Bergen, J. Albrechtová , J. Chen, M. Shahgedanova, A. Shvidenko N. Speranskaya, A. Soja, K. deBeurs, O. Bulygina, J. McCarty, Q. Zhuang, ,O. Zolina, and The NEFI Science Plan Preparation Team, 2017: Northern Eurasia Future Initiative (NEFI): Facing the Challenges and Pathways of Global Change in the 21st Century. Progress in Earth and Planetary Science (in review).
  • Han, J., J. Chen, L. Li, H. Chu, Y. Miao, S. Chen (2016). The Effects of grazing and watering on ecosystem CO2 fluxes vary by community phenology. Environmental Research 144: 64-71.
  • Han, J., J Chen, J Xia, L Li. (2015). Grazing and precipitation produce complex consequences on phenological successes and processes in a desert steppe. Plant Ecology 216:599–613.
  • Han, J., J. Chen, G. Han, C. Shao, H. Sun, and L. Li. 2014. Legacy effects from historical grazing enhanced carbon sequestration in a desert steppe. Journal of Arid Environment 107: 1-9.
  • John, R., J. Chen, V. Gianicco, H. Park, J. Xiao, G. Shirkey, Z. Ouyang, C. Shao, R Lafortezza, & J. Qi. (2017). Canopy cover and herbaceous aboveground biomass on the Mongolian Plateau: spatio-temporal estimates and controlling factors. Remote Sensing of the Environment (submitted).
  • John, R., Chen, J., Kim, Y., Ouyang, Z., Park, H., Xiao, J., Shao, C., Amarjargal, A., Zhang, Y., Bakshishig, O., and Qi, J. (2016). Differentiating anthropogenic modification and precipitation-driven change on vegetation productivity on the Mongolian Plateau. Landscape Ecology, 31, 547-566.
  • Liu, Y. Q. Zhuang, Z. Pan, D. Miralles, D. Kicklighter, Q. Zhu, Y. He, J. Chen, D. Niyogi, N. Tchebakova, A. Sirin, J. Melillo. (2015). Evapotranspiration in Northern Eurasia: Impact of forcing uncertainties on terrestrial ecosystem model estimates, J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 120.
  • Liu, Y., Q. Zhuang, Z. Pan, N. Tchebakova, D. Kicklighter, D. Miralles, J. Chen, A. Sirin, J. Melillo, (2014). Responses of evapotranspiration and water availability to the changing climate in Northern Eurasia. Climatic Change 126:413–427.
  • Park, H., P. Fan, R. John, and J. Chen. (2017). Urbanization on the Mongolian Plateau after economic reform: Changes and causes. Applied Geography 86: 118–127.
  • Qi, J., J. Chen, R Lafortezza, and L. Zhang (2017). Remote sensing for ecosystem sustainability. In S. Liang (editor), “Comprehensive Remote Sensing”, Elsevier (in press).
  • Qi, J., J., X. Xin, R. John, P. Groisman, and J. Chen. (2017). Understanding livestock production and sustainability of grassland ecosystems in the Asian Dryland Belt. Ecological Processes 6:22.
  • 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.
  • Shao, C., J. Chen, H. Chu, R. Lafortezza, G. Dong, M. Abraha, O. Batkhishig, R. John, Z. Ouyang, J. Qi. (2017). Grassland productivity and carbon sequestration in Mongolian grasslands: The underlying mechanisms and nomadic implications. Environmental Research 159: 124-134.
  • Shao, C., J. Chen, L. Li, G. Dong, J. Han, M. Abraha, and R. John. (2017). Grazing effects on energy fluxes in a desert steppe on the Mongolian Plateau. Ecological Applications 27: 485–502.
  • Shao, C., L Li, G. Dong, J. Chen. (2014). Spatial variation of net radiation and its contribution to energy balance closure in grassland ecosystems. Ecological Processes 3 (1): 1-11.
  • Xu, Y. and Y. Zhang, J. Chen. “Understanding Migration Pattern in Mongolia”. In Preparation.
  • Zhang, M., L. Zhang, Y. Xu, Y. Zhang, and J. Chen. (2017). Pastureland transfer as a livelihood adaptation strategy for the herdsmen: A case study of Xilingol, Inner Mongolia. Rangeland Journal 39(2):179-187.


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