Bibliography: J A Dearing


Landscape change and resilience theory

a palaeoenvironmental assessment from Yunnan, SW China


Abstract: The paper explores the use of Resilience Theory to provide an improved theoretical framework for the analysis of socio-ecological interactions over decadal–millennial timescales. It identifies landscape system behaviour through analysis of proxy records for land use, erosion and monsoon intensity over the past 3000 years in the Erhai lake-catchment system, Yunnan, SW China. Analysis of the records shows the possibility of alternative steady states in the landscape, as expressed by the relationship between land use and erosion. In particular, a period of agricultural expansion ~1400 cal. yr BP triggered rapid gully erosion that led to the formation of an eroded landscape state that has existed since ~800 cal. yr BP to the present day. Comparison of detrended time-series data suggests that over 3000 years erosion and land use should be considered ‘slow’ processes relative to the ‘faster’ monsoon intensity and flooding. In the past, the effects of high monsoon variance on flooding have been suppressed by paddy farming and the maintenance of terraced field systems. Mapping the Adaptive Cycle on to the millennial record of land use and erosion suggests that the modern landscape may be approaching a ‘conservation’ phase characterized by minimum resilience. Such ‘historical profiling’ of modern landscapes offers a new dimension for hypothesis testing, for the development and testing of simulation models and for the creation of appropriate management strategies.

Using multiple archives to understand past and present climate–human–environment interactions

The lake Erhai catchment, Yunnan Province, China


Abstract: A 6.48 m sediment core sequence from Erhai lake, Yunnan Province, provides a multi-proxy record of Holocene environmental evolution and human activity in southwest China. These sedimentary records provide proxy time series for catchment vegetation, flooding, soil erosion, sediment sources and metal workings. They are complemented by independent regional climate time-series from speleothems, archaeological records of human habitation, and a detailed documented environmental history. The article attempts to integrate these data sources to provide a Holocene scale record of environmental change and human–environment interactions. These interactions are analysed in order to identify the roles of climate and social drivers on environmental change, and the lessons that may be learned about the future sustainability of the landscape. The main conclusions are: lake sediment evidence for human impacts from at least 7,500 cal year BP is supported by a terrestrial record of cultural horizons that may extend back to *9,000 cal year BP. A major shift in the pollen assemblage, defined by detrended correspondence analysis, at *4,800 cal year BP marks the transition from a ‘nature-dominated’ to a ‘humandominated’ landscape. From 4,300 cal year BP, a change in river discharge responses may signal the beginning of hydraulic modification through drainage and irrigation. Major increases in disturbed land taxa and loss of forest taxa from 2,200 cal year BP onward, also associated with the start of significant topsoil erosion, register the expansion of agriculture by Han peoples. It is also the start of silver smelting linked to trade along the SW Silk Road with Dali becoming a regional centre. Peak levels of disturbed land taxa, topsoil and gully erosion are associated with the rise and fall of the Nanzhao (CE 738–902) and Dali (CE 937–1253) Kingdoms, and the documented environmental crisis that occurred in the late Ming and Qing dynasties (CE 1644–1911). The crisis coincides with a stronger summer monsoon, but exploitation of marginal agricultural land is the main driver. These historical perspectives provide insight into the resilience and sustainability of the modern agricultural system. The largest threat comes from high magnitude-low frequency flooding of lower dry farmed terraces and irrigated valley plains. A sustainable future depends on reducing the use of high altitude and steep slopes for grazing and cultivation, maintaining engineered flood defences and terraces, and anticipating the behaviour of the summer monsoon.