Integrating the ecosystem service in sustainable plateau spatial planning: A case study of the Yarlung Zangbo River Basin

  • CHE Lei , 1 ,
  • ZHOU Liang , 2, 3, * ,
  • XU Jiangang 1
  • 1. School of Architecture and Urban Planning, Nanjing University, Nanjing 210093, China
  • 2. Faculty of Geomatics, Lanzhou Jiaotong University, Lanzhou 730070, China
  • 3. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
*Zhou Liang (1983-), PhD and Professor, E-mail:

Che Lei (1993-), PhD, specialized in ecological management and regional planning. E-mail:

Received date: 2020-03-18

  Accepted date: 2020-08-13

  Online published: 2021-04-25

Supported by

Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences(XDA20040401)

National Natural Science Foundation of China(41961027)

National Natural Science Foundation of China(41701173)

China Postdoctoral Science Foundation(2016M600121)


Copyright reserved © 2021. Office of Journal of Geographical Sciences All articles published represent the opinions of the authors, and do not reflect the official policy of the Chinese Medical Association or the Editorial Board, unless this is clearly specified.


The Yarlung Zangbo River Basin (YZRB) is a key ecological protection area on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (QTP). Determination of the ecosystem service values (ESVs) can help recognize the benefits of sustainable management. It is gradually becoming the main path that constructs plateau spatial planning of integrating ecological protection, and achieves global sustainable development goals (SDGs) in China. In this paper, the spatio-temporal dynamic evolutions of the ESVs were estimated on the multiple scales of “basin, subbasin and watershed” from 1980 to 2015. The main factors influencing ESVs were explored in terms of physical geography, human activities, and climate change. It had been proposed that sustainable spatial planning including ecological protection, basin management, and regional development was urgent to set up. Our results show that the increase in wetland and forest and results in an increase of 9.4% in the ESVs. Attention should be paid to the reduction of water and grassland. Water conservation (WC), waste treatment (WT), and soil formation and conservation (SFC) are the most important ecosystem services in the YZRB. At present, the primary problem is to solve the ESVs decreasing caused by glacier melting, grassland degradation, and desertification in the upper reaches region. The middle reaches should raise the level of supply services. Regulation services should be increased in the lower reaches region on the premise of protecting vegetation. The ESVs in adjacent watersheds are interrelated and the phenomenon of “high agglomeration and low agglomeration” is obvious, existing hot-spots and cold-spots of ESVs. Additionally, when the altitude is 4500-5500 m, the temperature is 3-8°C, and the annual precipitation is 350-650 mm, ESVs could reach its maximum. A framework of sustainable plateau spatial planning could provide references to delimit the ecological protection red line, key ecological function zone, and natural resource asset accounting on the QTP.

Cite this article

CHE Lei , ZHOU Liang , XU Jiangang . Integrating the ecosystem service in sustainable plateau spatial planning: A case study of the Yarlung Zangbo River Basin[J]. Journal of Geographical Sciences, 2021 , 31(2) : 281 -297 . DOI: 10.1007/s11442-021-1847-7

1 Introduction

Ecosystem services are derived directly or indirectly from ecosystems through functions, which may have an impact on human wellbeing and natural capital flows (Costanza et al., 1997; Daily 1997; Costanza et al., 2014). Ecosystem services are closely related to land use (Hu et al., 2019). Changes in land use type and landscape patterns directly affect the supply of ecosystem services (Gao et al., 2017; Zhou et al., 2020), through which allocation of energy flow, material flow, and information flow of natural capital may be affected, thus to give rise to a variety of ecosystem services (ES) (Ádám et al., 2019). ES is particularly sensitive to the land-use change in ecologically sensitive and ecologically fragile areas at different altitudes (Chen et al., 2020; Zhang et al., 2018). The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (QTP) is the third pole of the earth, with ecological safety barriers and strategic resource reserve functions, which play an important role in sustainable development in the world (Yao et al., 2017). Dramatic changes in its land use will have a significant impact on the ecological environment and human activities (Fu et al., 2017; Zhou et al., 2020). Identifying ES may improve the management of natural capital, and provide insight into the allocation of ES (Claret et al., 2018). It is intended to provide implications for the ecological protection, restoration, and compensation of the QTP.
Ecosystem services (ES) received extensive attention in previous academic studies, which mainly included its functional classification, dynamic monitoring, and value evaluation (Luederitz et al., 2015). ES has been generally recognized in academia, defined that “the benefits obtained by human beings from the ecosystem”, which is divided into four categories: support services, supply services, regulation services, and cultural services (MA, 2005). This classification had a profound impact on subsequent studies and was used to evaluate the economic value, which was the most highly focused basic content (Tolessa et al., 2017; Gashaw et al., 2018; Wang et al., 2018). Using remote sensing to monitoring, analyzing the differences in the ES functions, assessing the status and trends of the ecosystem, providing ecological information for management decision-making, and promoting the interdisciplinary integration of ecology, economics, and management, have gradually become the frontier field and contemporary development direction (Bateman et al., 2013).
At present, basin management is also one of the key issues that need to be resolved on the QTP, and more attention must be paid to sustainable ecological protection and economic development (Kushwaha et al., 2018; Lusardi et al., 2020). Therefore, it is a great challenge to perform these two functions well. Quantitative assessment of ESVs is the basis for the evaluation of ecosystem status. ESV can be used to connect the ecosystem with the social and economic system, determine the ecosystem service function zoning, and optimize the spatial ecosystem service layout (Xie et al., 2017). This assessment can provide solutions for the effective management and protection of the target area, and help decision-makers develop the right measures to improve the regional ecological environment. Previous studies on ESV paid more attention to the improvement of estimation methods and the revision of value equivalent, and the content mostly centered on the description of spatio-temporal characteristics. When the formation mechanism was further explored based on these characteristics, more natural factors such as land, water, and climate were considered, and insufficient attention should be paid to the impact of human activities. The ESV for regional sustainable development policy has a great influence on the regional ecological security (Wang and Pan, 2019), ecological compensation (Su et al., 2020), the demarcation of the ecological red line (Yang et al., 2020), forest conservation and protection (Constant and Taylor, 2020), ecological risk assessment (Xing et al., 2020), and regional urbanization (Xiao et al., 2020). On the one hand, it is one of the main factors for the consideration of regional ecological protection; on the other hand, it also coordinates the interaction between the regional ecological system and human social system, as well as economic growth, social development and human well-being (Zhang et al., 2020). However, there is still no effective logical framework and implementation idea in the formulation of regional policy, so the role and significance of research are limited.
To further understand relationships between climate changes, ecological protection, basin management, and spatial planning on the QTP, the objective of this study was to explore (1) how spatio-temporal characteristics of ESVs have been changed? (2) what are the main reasons for the changes in ESVs? (3) how to build links between ecological protection, basin management and regional development? The social and economic benefits of ES are huge, and ecological protection of plateau is of great significance. Thus, identifying how ESVs change and the factors drive these changes will contribute to a better understanding of the natural assets and resources within the basin, and integration of ESV into plateau basin management is consistent with sustainable development. Meanwhile, basin management also needs multi-scale, multi-factor, and comprehensive consideration. Starting from multi-scale and multi-functional basins, we explored the human-earth interaction mechanism behind ESVs, carried out connectivity work around ESVs among different planning. The ultimate goal is to ensure the environmental protection of the plateau basin and conceive the sustainable spatial planning of the typical basin on the QTP. So, we first used the revised coefficient to assess the variations of ESVs on the multi-hydrological scale of “basin-subbasin-watershed” in the YZRB. Then, we analyzed and discussed the relationships between ESVs, and climate changes, physical geography, and human activities. Finally, spatial planning integrating ecological protection, basin management, and regional sustainable development were constructed. The results could be applicable for future spatial planning of sustainable basin ecological conservation strategies on the QTP and in other similar regions.

2 Materials and methods

2.1 Study area

The QTP is an ecologically sensitive area in the world, which calls for the precise spatial division to promote its future ecological protection, thus to exert the performance of ESVs (Huang et al., 2018). The Yarlung Zangbo River Basin (YZRB) is located at 27°80ʹ-31°02ʹN, 81°09ʹ-97°10ʹE, originating from the southeastern part of the QTP and the Gemma Yangzong Glacier in the Northern Himalayas. The average elevation of the YZRB is at about 5590 m, which makes it the highest river in the world (Figure 1). The basin traverses the entire southern part of the QTP from west to east. The whole basin area is 256,700 km2, which is divided into three subbasins with areas of 51,600 km2, 155,300 km2, and 49,800 km2, respectively. A multi-scale analysis framework based on “basin-subbasin-watershed” has been built, including three subbasins and 4986 watersheds.
Figure 1 Map of the Yarlung Zangbo River Basin
The YZRB has extremely complex and unique physiographical conditions, and the water resources are abundant. As the highest river in the world, the YZRB is the main water resource on the QTP due to its extensive glaciers and abundant water sources. Therefore, land and water resources research are always the main research direction including climate changes, coupled soil and water resources, hydrologic simulation, glaciers and snow (Zhou et al., 2018; Xu and Wu, 2019; Jin et al., 2019). At the same time, the YZRB is also a major population center in Tibet. Due to the rapid economic development and urban expansion, serious land desertification problem has been prominent (Zhang et al., 2018). The unique water and soil resources, climate conditions, and socio-economic conditions form a complex and diverse surface ecosystem, which provide diverse ecosystem functions and services (Dong et al., 2020).

2.2 Data sources and processing

A series of datasets were used in this research. (1) The land-use data from 1980, 1995, 2005 and 2015, at a resolution of 30 m, were obtained from the Resources and Environment Data Center of the Chinese Academy of Sciences ( to identify the change of LUCC in the YZRB (Liu et al., 2003). (2) The elevation and slope were calculated from the STRM3 30-m resolution digital elevation data in the Geospatial Data Cloud ( (3) Meteorological data, including temperature and precipitation, were obtained from the China Meteorological Science Data Sharing Service Network (, and a total of 30 meteorological sites near the YZRB were used to form a new dataset. (4) The baseline map was obtained from the Tibet Autonomous Region Surveying and Mapping Bureau (, the basin boundary based on previous research, and the watershed boundary was generated by the spatial analysis of hydrology. All spatial data were reclassified into grids at a spatial resolution of 100 m*100 m using the Nearest Neighbor tool on the ArcGIS 10.2.

2.3 Methods

2.3.1 Assessment of ecosystem service values
Xie et al. (2003) proposed the ecosystem service values (ESVs) based on China’s terrestrial ecosystem, as the economic value of natural grain yield per year for cropland with an average yield of 1 ha. Wang et al. (2014) analyzed the change of ESV in the Nam Co (Lake) basin based on the grain yield and average purchase price of the QTP and discussed the response to land use/cover change (LUCC). Based on them, we revised the coefficient of ESVs (Table 1). Due to the small construction land area in the research area, the ESVs were not included in the accounting. According to the revised coefficient, the changes of six types of land (except built-up land) in different periods of the YZRB were calculated. The calculation method was as follows:
$\begin{align} & ESV={{\sum{{{A}_{k}}\Delta VC}}_{k}} \\ & ES{{V}_{f}}={{\sum{{{A}_{k}}\Delta VC}}_{fk}} \\ \end{align} $
where ESV is the value of ecosystem service, Ak is the distribution area (ha) of land use type k in the research area, VCk is the ecosystem value coefficient (yuan ha-1 a-1), ESVf is the ecosystem service function value of item f, and VCfk is the value coefficient of the service function (yuan ha-1 a-1) of item f of land use type k.
Table 1 Single-unit ecosystem service values on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (yuan/ha)
Type Subtype Forest land Grassland Cropland Wetland Water Unused land
Supply services FP 62.9 188.6 628.6 188.6 62.9 6.3
RMP 1634.4 31.4 6.3 44 6.3 0
WC 2011.5 502.9 377.2 9743.3 12823.4 18.9
Subtotal 3708.8 722.9 1012.1 9975.9 12892.6 25.2
Regulation services GR 2200.1 502.9 314.3 1131.5 0 0
CR 1697.2 565.7 559.5 10 749.1 289.2 0
Subtotal 3897.3 1068.6 873.8 11 880.6 289.2 0
Support services SFC 2451.5 1225.8 917.8 1074.9 6.3 12.6
WT 823.5 823.5 1030.9 11428 11440.5 6.3
BP 2049.2 685.2 446.3 1571.5 1565.2 213.7
Subtotal 5324.2 2734.5 2395 14074.4 13012 232.6
Cultural services EC 804.6 25.1 6.3 3488.7 2728.1 6.3
Total ESVs Total 13734.9 4551.1 4287.2 39419.6 28921.9 264.1

Abbreviations: FP: food production; RMP: raw material production; WC: water conservation; GR: gas regulation; CR: climate regulation; SFC: soil formation and conservation; WT: waste treatment; BP: biodiversity protection; EC: entertainment and culture.

2.3.2 Variation of ecosystem service values
Based on the land use dynamic model (Zhou et al., 2019), this paper evaluated the quantity change, degree change, and regional difference of ecosystem service values (ESVs) in different land types, and obtained the change of ESVs by calculating a single and comprehensive land dynamics in the YZRB. The calculation method was as follows:
$DESV=\left[ \frac{\sum\limits_{i=1}^{n}{\Delta ES{{V}_{i-j}}}}{\sum\limits_{i=1}^{n}{ES{{V}_{i}}}} \right]\times \frac{1}{T}\times 100% $
where ESVi is the ESV of type i, ΔESVij is the change ESV that type i converted into type j, and n is the number of ESV types. When the period T is set as one year, DESV is the annual rate of change of ESV.
2.3.3 Sensitivity of ecosystem service values
At present, the methods of ecosystem service values based on coefficients per unit area of land use categories have been widely used, but the determination of the coefficient is critical to the accuracy. In this paper, we used the coefficient of sensitivity (CS) to verify the impact on the uncertainty of the result (Zhang et al., 2020). The calculation method was as follows:
$CS=\left| \frac{(ES{{V}_{j}}-ES{{V}_{i}})/ES{{V}_{i}}}{\left( V{{C}_{jk}}-V{{C}_{ik}} \right)/V{{C}_{ik}}} \right|$
where CS is the sensitivity of ESVs; ESVi and ESVj are the initial and adjusted ESV; VCik and VCjk are the initial and adjusted coefficients of ESV. If CS>1, it indicates that ESV is elastic to VC, that is, the change of independent variable of 1% will cause a change of dependent variable greater than 1%, with poor accuracy and low reliability. On the contrary, if CS < 1, it indicates that ESV is inelastic to VC, and the research results are credible.
2.3.4 Spatial hot-spots detection
Using the Getis-Ord Gi*index to measure the local spatial correlation degree of ecosystem service value (ESV) and determine the spatial locations of hot-spots and cold-spots (Zhao, 2014). This method is a kind of exploratory spatial data analysis (ESDA) that explores the correlation characteristics of each watershed and its adjacent areas and describes spatial clustering characteristics of different ESVs. The formula is as follows:
where the value of Gi* is positive, indicating that the value around i is relatively high and belongs to the hot-spot. Otherwise, it is a cold-spot. According to the calculation results of ESV, the Getis-Ord Gi*index was used as the local spatial correlation index for each watershed, and three spatial patterns, cold-spot, hot-spot, and not significant, are identified.

3 Results

3.1 Basin heterogeneity of ecosystem service values

The ecosystem service values (ESVs) in the YZRB presented an “N” type changing trend and increased from 15,957.3×108 yuan in 1980 to 17,463.9×108 yuan in 2015, with an increase of 9.4%, with a changing degree of 0.3% shown in Table 2. Different land types showed different changing trends, which can be roughly divided into four types of changes: “V”, “N”, inverted “V” and inverted “N”. Among its components, the changes in the ESVs of grassland presented an inverted “N” type trend. Their changing degrees were 0.6%, indicating that these ESVs showed a decreasing trend, decreased from 7249.1×108 yuan in 1980 to 5607.3×108 yuan in 2015. The changes in the ESVs of forest land, wetland, and unused land showed an “N” type trend, with dynamic degrees of 1.4%, 9.6%, and 1.1%. The ESVs of cropland firstly decreased and then increased between 1980 to 2015, showing a “V” type trend, with a changing degree of 0.6%. Changes in the ESVs of water presented an inverted “V” type trend. And then it goes down, and the dynamic degrees were 3.1%.
Table 2 Changes in ecosystem service values in the Yarlung Zangbo River Basin from 1980 to 2015
Land-use type ESVs (108 yuan) Dynamic degree (%) Variation trend
1980 1995 2005 2015 1980-1995 1995-2005 2005-2015 1980-2015
Cropland 145.1 100.5 144.6 174.3 2.0 4.4 2.1 0.6
Forest land 4872.7 5589.0 4890.7 7226.9 1.0 1.2 4.8 1.4
Grassland 7249.1 6658.6 7243.7 5607.3 0.5 0.9 2.3 0.6
Water 3073.1 3220.0 3083.6 2133.3 0.3 0.4 3.1 0.9
Wetland 495.1 495.1 464.9 2154.4 0.0 0.6 36.3 9.6
Unused land 122.2 145.3 122.2 167.7 1.3 1.6 3.7 1.1
Total ESV 15957.3 16208.4 15949.8 17463.9 0.1 0.2 0.9 0.3
The distribution of ecosystem service values exhibits significant spatial heterogeneity. There is certain regularity in the spatial variation (Figure 2). The areas with reduced ESVs are mostly distributed in the lower reaches, around Qamdo and Nyingchi. Although the ESVs here are relatively high, mainly as a result of the conversion of forest land to grassland in these areas. Forest degradation has brought about a reduction in the ESVs per unit area, resulting in the reduction of the ESVs. The areas with markedly increased ESVs are mainly distributed in the upper and middle reaches, and there are also a small number of such areas in the lower reaches of Bomi and Medog.
Figure 2 Spatial distribution variation of ecosystem service values in the Yarlung Zangbo River Basin from 1980 to 2015
The value of water conservation services (WC) is the highest, with a mean of 307.5×108 yuan, followed by waste treatment (WT) services and soil formation and conservation (SFC) as shown in Figure 3. The average values are 297.2×108 and 287.0×108 yuan. Water has gradually become the main source of basin ESVs. Because the basin is on the QTP, the population is sparse and the areas of crops that can be planted are small. Food production (FP) and raw material production (RMP) services have lower values compared with other services, with average values of 33.7×108 and 719.7×108 yuan, respectively. The changes in different types show obvious regular characteristics. The WT and FP services show an inverted “N” trend, those of SFC and climate regulation (CR) services show an inverted “V” trend, and those of gas regulation (GR), biodiversity protection (BP), water conservation (WC), raw material production (RMP) and entertainment culture (EC) services show an “N” trend. In general, the values of FP and WT are decreasing, while the remaining seven ESVs are increasing to varying degrees, which increases the overall ESV for the whole basin.
Figure 3 Changes in different kinds of ecosystem service values in the Yarlung Zangbo River Basin from 1980 to 2015

3.2 Subbasins gradient of ecosystem service values

The areas of higher supply services values are concentrated in the middle reaches as shown in Figure 4b. Many people are mainly concentrated in tributary areas such as the Lhasa River, the Nyang Qu River, and the Maquan River basins, which are suitable for farming. The areas with increased supply services values are mainly concentrated in the middle and lower reaches, including Nyingchi, Lhasa, and the southern part of Xigaze, while the areas with decreased values are distributed in the upper reaches. Changes in land use have led to changes in the supply services in the upper reaches, and the continuous transformation of unused land has reduced its supply services.
Figure 4 Spatio-temporal changes of multiple ecosystem service values in subbasins of Yarlung Zangbo River Basin(a. upper reaches; b. middle reaches; c. lower reaches)
The areas with high regulation service are mainly distributed in the lower reaches, with the remaining areas having lower values. This may be related to the higher coverage of forest vegetation in the lower reaches, and the values of GR and CR provide by forest land are greater than those provided by other land types. The areas with decreased regulation service values account for 20.3% of the total area, while those with increased values account for 20.1%. The magnitudes of the increase and decrease are more consistent. There have been greater reductions in regulation service values in the upper reaches, while the values in the middle and lower reaches have increased to varying degrees. The lower reaches are areas of high support service and cultural service values. Although the middle and upper reaches have low-value characteristics, these have been greatly improved.

3.3 Watershed distribution of ecosystem service values

Different types of ecosystem service values (ESVs) in the watershed of the YZRB have obvious spatial clustering characteristics. The spatial correlation of most watersheds is not significant, and Gi* value of ESVs in some watersheds passes the test of the significance level. Then, the hot-cold spots (>90%) of various ESVs are formed, which indicates that ESVs in this watershed show a strong positive spatial correlation. When the ESVs of these watersheds are high, the ESVs of their neighboring watersheds are high. The ESVs in adjacent watersheds are interrelated. Eventually, the phenomenon of “high agglomeration and low agglomeration” is obvious over the YZRB.
Local spatial patterns of different ecosystem service values (ESVs) are shown in Figures 5a-5d. For supply service, the number of hot-spot (99%), hot-spot (95%) and hot-spot (90%) are 759, 351, and 210, accounting for 26.47%. They are mainly distributed in the middle and lower reaches, especially the northeastern part of the lower reaches. While the numbers of cold-spot (99%), cold-spot (95%) and cold-spot (90%) are 814, 379 and 204, accounting for 28.02%, distributing in the upper reaches of the Maquan River intensively, and the rest of cold spots are scattered at the edge of the YZRB. Hot-spots of the regulation services value are concentrated and distributed in the areas around Xigaze, Lhasa, and Nyingchi, accounting for 17.49%. Because the per unit area value of regulation services in forest land is greater, it is easy to form hot-spots in the middle and lower reaches regions that have higher vegetation coverage. However, the cold-spots of regulation services are scattered in the upper and middle reaches, accounting for 1/4 over the basin. In Xigaze, Lhasa, Qamdo, and other areas, a large portion forms the hot areas of supporting services, which accounts for nearly 25% of the YZRB. The numbers of cold-spot (99%), cold-spot (95%), and cold-spot (90%) are 792, 387, and 205, and they are mainly distributed in the upper and middle reaches of the grassland. In terms of cultural services, the numbers of hot-spot (99%), hot-spot (95%), and hot-spot (90%) are 683, 399, and 201, accounting for 25.73%, while the numbers of cold-spot (99%), cold-spot (95%) and cold-spot (90%) are 743, 469 and 197. The spatial distribution pattern is similar to that of support services.
Figure 5 Different types of ecosystem service values hot-cold spots of watersheds in the Yarlung Zangbo River Basin from 1980 to 2015 (a. supply service; b. regulation services; c. support services; d. cultural service)

3.4 Sensitivity analysis of ecosystem service values

The coefficient of sensitivity (CS) is less than 1 in all cases indicating that the estimation results are relatively inelastic (Table 3).
Table 3 Sensitivity index of ecosystem service values to its coefficient
Change of value coefficients 1980 1995 2005 2015
Cropland VC±50% 0.005 0.009 0.003 0.006 0.005 0.009 0.005 0.010
Forest land VC±50% 0.153 0.305 0.175 0.349 0.153 0.307 0.207 0.414
Grassland VC±50% 0.227 0.454 0.208 0.416 0.227 0.454 0.161 0.321
Water VC±50% 0.096 0.193 0.101 0.201 0.097 0.193 0.061 0.122
Wetland VC±50% 0.016 0.031 0.009 0.018 0.015 0.029 0.062 0.123
Unused land VC±50% 0.004 0.008 0.005 0.009 0.004 0.008 0.005 0.010
According to the formula, the value of cropland, forest land, grassland, and water are adjusted by 50% respectively, and the sensitivity index of ecosystem services in the study area in 1990, 1995, 2000, and 2005 are calculated. The results show that the sensitivity index of ESVs is all less than 1, indicating that ESVs in the study area are inelastic to VC, and the results were credible. Among them, since the area of forest land and the ecological service value per unit area are relatively large, the sensitivity index of forest land is the largest, which is 0.57, indicating that the VC of forest land increased by 1% and ESV by 0.57%. And the CS of all the other land-use types is much less than 1. Compared with water and forest land, the coefficient of cropland and grassland is lower, but the sensitivity of cropland is higher than that of grassland because the area of cropland is larger than that of grassland.

4 Discussion

4.1 Response of ecosystem service values to elevation, climate change, and human activities

Changes in ESVs are influenced by many factors, both climate and human activities (Bryan et al., 2011). The spatial differentiation of ESVs also results from the combination of random factors (human activities) and structural factors (natural background). Natural environmental changes have a great impact on the ecological environment, directly affecting land use types, and changing soil, water, and land cover. The altitude indirectly affects climate such as temperature and precipitation, which will change vegetation and the surrounding environment. Also, human activities such as Economic activity, social development, and agricultural production can change the surface, resulting in the functional and structural change of land use.
Multi-year average ESVs for different elevation, precipitation, and temperature are shown in Figures 6a-6c. The results indicate that the ESVs increase as the temperature and precipitation increase. Meanwhile, ESVs decrease as elevation increases, forming a high-value area between 4000 and 6000 m. With the increase of altitude, climate factors such as temperature and precipitation decrease continuously, and the habitat environment becomes more and more severe. As the per unit area value is higher in wetlands, water, and forest lands, ESVs are not lower in the upper reaches with a higher altitude, lower temperature, and less precipitation than in the middle and lower reaches. Mainly, there are more glaciers and wetlands in the upper reaches. Therefore, when the altitude is above 5000 m, there are still some areas with high ESVs. During 4500-5500 m, ESVs are generally higher than in other regions, while the high-value areas between 3-8°C are concentrated, and the precipitation between 350-650 mm is relatively high. Finally, it can be shown that the suitable areas of high altitude, temperature, and precipitation in the YZRB are the high-value area of ESVs, which is concentrated on the middle reaches and Qamdo in the lower reaches, etc. This is consistent with the previous hot spot analysis results. Altitude is not a key factor directly affecting ESVs, but the constant change of altitude, light, water, and heat conditions will change greatly. Thus, different types of land use are formed, leading to great differences. On the other hand, the land-use change also results in changes in topography, soil, and other factors, which directly affect the provision of ESVs. Altitude and climate are complex and interactive, and the mechanism of their influence on ESVs cannot be explained clearly for a while.
Figure 6 Variations in the multi-year average ecosystem service values for 1980-2015 along with elevation, temperature, precipitation, POP, and GDP
Changes in human activities also have significant impact, and there is a significant negative relationship between POP and GDP with ESVs (Figures 6d-6e). POP and GDP are indispensable indicators of socio-economic factors, as well as indirectly reflecting the random effects of human activities on the natural environment and ecosystem. The negative correlation between POP and ESV continues to increase, which is related to the harm caused to the ecosystem by the growth of the population. This makes the plateau ecosystem more fragile and naturally leads to a decrease in ESVs. There are a small population and a concentrated distribution in QTP especially in the YZRB, and the socio-economic activities along with the population are also more concentrated on the middle reaches. The GDP indicates the degree of social and economic development. The social development is mostly based on agriculture and animal husbandry, and its impact on the ES is not significant. However, the ecology of the basin is extremely vulnerable, where there is a low threshold for the stability of the ecosystem. Serious ecological and environmental problems are prone to occur, causing irreversible damage in the alpine parts of the QTP. The inhibitory effect of GDP is reducing and the impact of environmental damage due to the development of human society is gradually decreasing. With the continuous attention and protection to the ecological environment, we believe that the destruction by human activities will be reduced, the carrying capacity of the ecosystem will gradually recover, and the ecological quality will be improved.

4.2 Sustainable spatial planning based on the dynamic evolution of ecosystem service values

Since 1999, a series of environmental protection and ecological restoration projects have been carried out on the QTP, such as the Grain for Green Project (GGP), the Grazing Withdrawal Program (GWP), and the Construction of Ecological Security Barrier (CESB), etc. (Li et al., 2016). These projects involve many measures for the prevention and treatment of waste, including pasture fences to protect natural vegetation from overgrazing and the construction of a sheltered forest to prevent degradation (Chen et al., 2014). Meanwhile, the Chinese government has invested more than 15 billion yuan to promote the restoration of the ecosystem through the implementation of the Tibet Ecological Security Barrier Protection and Construction Project (TECP) maintenance of ES, and increases in herdsmen’s income (NDRC, 2009). Corresponding to these measures, the ESVs in the YZRB increased significantly after 2005. Forest land, wetland, and other areas are increasing, and the ES such as WC, SFC, CR, GR, BP, RMP, and EC has also significantly increased. This means that the environmental protection policy has a significant effect on the improvement of ESVs.
The major issue that must be confronted in this area is to deal with the relationship between ecosystem services, comprehensive management, and sustainable spatial planning (Figure 7). Therefore, spatial planning needs to integrate ecological protection, basin management, and regional sustainable development urgently. Basin management is a systematic and comprehensive project, and multiple systems within the basin are involved such as ecology, economy, society, land, water, culture, and agriculture, etc. These systems interact and coordinate with each other, and are reflected on multiple-hydrological scales of the basin. The ecological function of the basin depends on plateau and river source areas, which plays an important role in ensuring the ecological security. Therefore, we propose to build a three-level management system of “basin-subbasin-watershed”, which follows the division rule of the natural hydrology of the basin, to ensure the consistency of relevant elements at the same level of units, and facilitate the planning, implementation, management, and operation in the future. Regional sustainable development is ultimately played by ecological protection and basin management together. However, to highlight the importance and sustainability principle of ecological protection and basin management, we have to attach equal importance to its role in spatial planning.
Figure 7 Relationship between ecological protection, basin management, and regional sustainable development (modified after Zhang et al., 2020)
ESVs play a role as a link in the economy, society, and environment system, which is involved in the protection of ecological diversity, human beings, and social benefits (Figure 8). In the context of global climate change, it is more important to take account of the need to balance conservation of the ecological environment with sustainable economic development, and the key to the development of the region is ecological security. Assessment of ESVs is subject to policy objectives, and local policy-makers need to select the appropriate. Based on the local socio-economic and ecological conditions, the ecosystem services (ES) in each decision-making environment are analyzed (Deng et al., 2016; Bai et al., 2018), to balance the whole basin and form the rational development.
Figure 8 Implementation path of a sustainable basin spatial planning

5 Conclusion

This paper utilizes the YZRB as an example to assess the spatio-temporal characterizes of ESVs from 1980 to 2015 and reveals its correlation with physical geography, human society, and climate change. We propose sustainable spatial planning integrating ecological protection, watershed management, and regional development. The ESVs in the YZRB has increased 15 957×108 yuan, and the main reason for the improvement is the increase in wetland and forest land. Correspondingly, the value of climate regulation (CR), soil formation and conservation (SFC), water conservation (WC), gas regulation (GR), biodiversity protection (BP), and entertainment culture (EC) has also been improved. The increase in ESV is most obvious in the upper and middle reaches, especially in Xigaze and Lhasa. The middle reaches have the most ESVs, and different ESVs are distributed concentratedly, with obvious spatial clustering characteristics. In the whole basin, attention should be paid to the reduction of water and grassland, the proportion of food production (FP) and waste treatment (WT) should be increased, and the ESV in the upper reaches region should be reduced. This area has serious ecological problems. The primary problem is to solve the reduction of ESV caused by glacier melting, grassland degradation, and desertification presently. The middle reaches need to raise the level of supply services. Regulation services should be increased in the lower reaches region on the premise of protecting vegetation. In addition, ESVs is positively correlated with climate change factors such as temperature and precipitation, and negatively correlated with population and GDP. It first increases and then decreases with altitude, presenting an inverted “U-shaped” pattern.
Although ESV in the whole basin has been enhanced, ecological problems such as desertification and grassland degradation are more prominent. To protect natural resources and coordinate development in the YZRB, a new framework for future ecological management and sustainable spatial development has been constructed. At the same time, there is a need to determine the red line for ecological protection, formulate protection and management policies for the key ecological function areas, and account for natural resources assets. Constructing the dynamic ESVs assessment for different river basins, and coming up with different solutions are of great significance to the implementation of environmental protection on the QTP in the future. This study can also provide a reference for ecological protection and spatial planning in other similar basins.
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