Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2018, Vol. 28 ›› Issue (2): 152-174.doi: 10.1007/s11442-018-1465-1

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The vulnerability evolution and simulation of social-ecological systems in a semi-arid area: A case study of Yulin City, China

Jia CHEN1,2,*(), Xinjun YANG1,2(), Sha YIN1, Kongsen WU1, Mengqi DENG1, Xin WEN1   

  1. 1. College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Northwest University, Xi’an 710127, China;
    2. Shaanxi Key Laboratory of Earth Surface System and Environmental Carrying Capacity, Northwest University, Xi'an 710127, China
  • Received:2017-06-16 Accepted:2017-07-30 Online:2018-02-10 Published:2018-02-10
  • Contact: Jia CHEN;
  • About author:

    Author: Chen Jia, PhD Candidate, specialized in social-ecological system and regional sustainable development E-mail:

    Corresponding author: Yang Xinjun, Professor, E-mail:

  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41571163;Northwest University Doctorate Dissertation of Excellence Funds, No.YYB17016


Taking the semi-arid area of Yulin City as an example, this study improves the vulnerability assessment methods and techniques at the county scale using the VSD (Vulnerability Scoping Diagram) assessment framework, integrates the VSD framework and the SERV (Spatially Explicit Resilience-Vulnerability) model, and decomposes the system vulnerability into three dimensions, i.e., exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity. Firstly, with the full understanding of the background and exposure risk source of the research area, the vulnerability indexes were screened by the SERV model, and the index system was constructed to assess the characteristics of the local eco-environment. Secondly, with the aid of RS and GIS, this study measured the spatial differentiation and evolution of the social-ecological systems in Yulin City during 2000-2015 and explored intrinsic reasons for the spatial-temporal evolution of vulnerability. The results are as follows: (1) The spatial pattern of Yulin City’s SESs vulnerability is “high in northwest and southeast and low along the Great Wall”. Although the degree of system vulnerability decreased significantly during the study period and the system development trend improved, there is a sharp spatial difference between the system vulnerability and exposure risk. (2) The evolution of system vulnerability is influenced by the risk factors of exposure, and the regional vulnerability and the spatial heterogeneity of exposure risk are affected by the social sensitivity, economic adaptive capacity and other factors. Finally, according to the uncertainty of decision makers, the future scenarios of regional vulnerability are simulated under different decision risks by taking advantage of the OWA multi-criteria algorithm, and the vulnerability of the regional system under different development directions was predicted based on the decision makers' rational risk interval.

Key words: social-ecological systems (SESs), VSD assessment framework, vulnerability, Yulin City