Distinguishing between human-induced and climate-driven vegetation changes: A critical application of RESTREND in inner Mongolia

Ang Li, Jianguo Wu, Jianhui Huang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

263 Scopus citations


Changes in the spatiotemporal pattern of vegetation alter the structure and function of landscapes, consequently affecting biodiversity and ecological processes. Distinguishing human-induced vegetation changes from those driven by environmental variations is critically important for ecological understanding and management of landscapes. The main objectives of this study were to detect human-induced vegetation changes and evaluate the impacts of land use policies in the Xilingol grassland region of Inner Mongolia, using the NDVI-based residual trend (RESTREND) method. Our results show that human activity (livestock grazing) was the primary driver for the observed vegetation changes during the period of 1981-2006. Specifically, vegetation became increasingly degraded from the early 1980s when the land use policy-the Household Production Responsibility System-led to soaring stocking rates for about two decades. Since 2000, new institutional arrangements for grassland restoration and conservation helped curb and even reverse the increasing trend in stocking rates, resulting in large-scale vegetation improvements in the region. These results suggest that most of the degraded grasslands in the Xilingol region can recover through ecologically sound land use policies or institutional arrangements that keep stocking rates under control. Our study has also demonstrated that the RESTREND method is a useful tool to help identify human-induced vegetation changes in arid and semiarid landscapes where plant cover and production are highly coupled with precipitation. To effectively use the method, however, one needs to carefully deal with the problems of heterogeneity and scale in space and time, both of which may lead to erroneous results and misleading interpretations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)969-982
Number of pages14
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Aug 2012


  • Arid landscape dynamics
  • Grassland vegetation
  • Inner Mongolia
  • Land use and land cover change
  • Land use policy
  • NDVI residuals trend (RESTREND) analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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