Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2020, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (9): 1419-1435.doi: 10.1007/s11442-020-1790-z

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Exploring the spatio-temporal impacts of farmland reforestation on ecological connectivity using circuit theory: A case study in the agro-pastoral ecotone of North China

LIU Xiaojing1(), LIU Dianfeng1,2,*(), ZHAO Hongzhuo1, HE Jianhua1,2, LIU Yaolin1,2,3   

  1. 1. School of Resource and Environmental Science, Wuhan University, Wuhan 430079, China
    2. Key Laboratory of Digital Cartography and Land Information Engineering, Ministry of Natural Resources, Wuhan University, Wuhan 430079, China
    3. Collaborative Innovation Center for Geospatial Information Science, Wuhan University, Wuhan 430079, China
  • Received:2020-03-15 Accepted:2020-06-18 Online:2020-09-25 Published:2020-11-25
  • Contact: LIU Dianfeng
  • About author:Liu Xiaojing (1996–), specialized in land use change and landscape connectivity. E-mail:
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(41771429);National Key Research and Development Project(2017YFB0503505)


Farmland reforestation can contribute substantially to ecological restoration. Previous studies have extensively examined the ecological effects of farmland reforestation, but few of them have investigated the spatiotemporal responses of broad-scale landscape connectivity to reforestation. By using a typical agro-pastoral ecotone in northern China as a case study, we addressed this issue based on an innovative integration of circuit theory approach and counterfactual analysis. The forest connectivity through multiple dispersal pathways was measured using the circuit theory approach, and its spatiotemporal changes after reforestation were evaluated by counterfactual analysis. The results showed that from 2000-2015, the reforested farmland occupied 2095 km2, and 12.5% was on steeply sloped land. Farmland reforestation caused a greater increase in ecological connectivity by adding new ecological corridors and stepping stones in scattered forest areas rather than in areas with dense forest distributions. The newly added corridors and stepping stones were fragmented, short and narrow and thus deserve powerful protection. Future reforestation to improve landscape connectivity should highlight pinch point protection and obstacle removal as well as the tradeoff between farmland loss and farmer survival. Our findings are expected to inform the optimization of the Grain for Green policy from the perspective of broad-scale biodiversity conservation.

Key words: farmland reforestation, ecological connectivity, circuit theory, land use change, agro-pastoral ecotone, China