Land-use regime shift triggered the recent degradation of alpine pastures in Nyanpo Yutse of the eastern Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau

Li Li*, Fabian E. Fassnacht, Ilse Storch, Matthias Bürgi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


Context: The eastern Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau is a cultural landscape where traditional pastoralism substantially shaped the present mosaic structure of the alpine grasslands. During the past two decades, however, severe grassland degradations of this region has been considered as the major ecological concern. Objectives: In this study we took an interdisciplinary approach to investigate the impact of the historical land-use regimes to the observed degradation, by conducting an in-depth case study in a local pastoral village in the Nyanpo Yutse region. Methods: Firstly, we mapped historical land-use intensities (LUIs) of the study area at land-use transition time points of 1970s, 1984, 1994 and 2015 with oral history and participatory GIS (PGIS) approaches. Secondly, we conducted Landsat and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) time series analysis to detect the temporal and spatial patterns of the degradation. Thirdly, we discussed the causal relations between the land-use and land-cover changes. Results: Livestock and pasture privatization from 1984 to 1994 created the land-use regime shift which resulted in a marked increase in LUIs and decreased pastoral mobility. The LUI increase in this transition period fostered the establishment of short-grass vegetation which facilitated the spreading of plateau pikas. The installment of iron fences as private pasture borders from 2004 to 2007 eventually started the onset of degradation. Conclusions: Our case study illustrates that the past land-use regime shift triggered the recent ecological regime shift in Nyanpo Yutse. Severe grassland degradation occurred with a time lag during which cumulative LUIs surpassed the vulnerability threshold of the biophysical system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2187-2203
Number of pages17
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Alpine landscape
  • Cultural landscape
  • Interdisciplinary research
  • Land-use intensity
  • Oral history
  • PGIS
  • Plateau pika
  • Remote sensing

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