Increased vegetation growth and carbon stock in China karst via ecological engineering


Afforestation and reforestation projects in the karst regions of southwest China aim to combat desertification and improve the ecological environment. However, it remains unclear at what scale conservation efforts have impacted on carbon stocks and if vegetation regrowth occurs at a large spatial scale as intended. Here we use satellite time series data and show a widespread increase in leaf area index (a proxy for green vegetation cover), and aboveground biomass carbon, which contrasted negative trends found in the absence of anthropogenic influence as simulated by an ecosystem model. In spite of drought conditions, aboveground biomass carbon increased by 9% (+0.05 Pg C y−1), mainly in areas of high conservation effort. We conclude that large scale conservation projects can contribute to a greening Earth with positive effects on carbon sequestration to mitigate climate change. At the regional scale, such ecological engineering projects may reduce risks of desertification by increasing the vegetation cover and reducing the ecosystem sensitivity to climate perturbations.

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Fig. 1: Temporal profiles averaged over the three provinces.
Fig. 2: Trends, anomalies and carbon stocks.
Fig. 3: The study area includes the provinces Guangxi, Guizhou and Yunnan in southwest China.
Fig. 4: Grouped changes in vegetation trends.


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The study was funded by the National Key Research and Development Program of China (no. 2016YFC0502400) and National Natural Science Foundation of China (no. 41471445, 41371418) and Science and Technology Service Network Initiative of Chinese Academy of Sciences (no. KFJ-STS-ZDTP-036). M.B. received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020Research and Innovation programme under Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 656564. R.F. acknowledges funding from the Danish Council for Independent Research (DFF) grant iD: DFF–6111-00258.

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X.T., M.B., R.F., S.H., Y.Y., W.K. and K.W. designed the study. X.T., S.H. (BFAST), W.K. and G.S. (LPJ) conducted the analyses with support from F.T., Y.Y., M.B. and R.F. MODIS and LAI data were prepared by R.M. and C.C.; M.B. and X.T. drafted the manuscript, which was edited by R.F., S.H., W.K., Y.Y., G.S., F.T., Z.S., X.X., C.C., H.C. and Y.L.

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Correspondence to Yuemin Yue or Kelin Wang.

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Tong, X., Brandt, M., Yue, Y. et al. Increased vegetation growth and carbon stock in China karst via ecological engineering. Nat Sustain 1, 44–50 (2018).

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