Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2017, Vol. 27 ›› Issue (2): 183-204.doi: 10.1007/s11442-017-1371-y

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Effects of an ecological conservation and restoration project in the Three-River Source Region, China

Quanqin SHAO(), Wei CAO, Jiangwen FAN, Huang Lin*(), Xinliang XU   

  1. Key Laboratory of Land Surface Pattern and Simulation, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
  • Received:2016-03-03 Accepted:2016-06-03 Online:2017-04-10 Published:2017-04-10
  • Contact: Huang Lin;
  • About author:

    Author: Shao Quanqin (1962-), Professor, E-mail:

    *Corresponding author: Huang Lin (1981-), PhD and Associate Professor, E-mail:

  • Supported by:
    National Nature Sciences Foundation of China, No.41571504;National Key Technology Research and Development Program, No.2013BAC03B00


The first-stage of an ecological conservation and restoration project in the Three-River Source Region (TRSR), China, has been in progress for eight years. However, because the ecological effects of this project remain unknown, decision making for future project implementation is hindered. Thus, in this study, we developed an index system to evaluate the effects of the ecological restoration project, by integrating field observations, remote sensing, and process-based models. Effects were assessed using trend analyses of ecosystem structures and services. Results showed positive trends in the TRSR since the beginning of the project, but not yet a return to the optima of the 1970s. Specifically, while continued degradation in grassland has been initially contained, results are still far from the desired objective, ‘grassland coverage increasing by an average of 20%-40%’. In contrast, wetlands and water bodies have generally been restored, while the water conservation and water supply capacity of watersheds have increased. Indeed, the volume of water conservation achieved in the project meets the objective of a 1.32 billion m3 increase. The effects of ecological restoration inside project regions was more significant than outside, and, in addition to climate change projects, we concluded that the implementation of ecological conservation and restoration projects has substantially contributed to vegetation restoration. Nevertheless, the degradation of grasslands has not been fundamentally reversed, and to date the project has not prevented increasing soil erosion. In sum, the effects and challenges of this first-stage project highlight the necessity of continuous and long-term ecosystem conservation efforts in this region.

Key words: Three-River Source Region, ecological conservation and restoration, ecosystem monitoring and assessment, ecological effects