Rapid environmental change during dynastic transitions in Yunnan Province, China

Aubrey L. Hillman, Jun Qing Yu, Mark B. Abbott, Colin A. Cooke, Daniel J. Bain, Byron A. Steinman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Pollution and eutrophication of Chinese lakes are widely perceived to be 20th century phenomena. However, China has a long history of deforestation, agriculture, mineral resource extraction, and other anthropogenic activities that impact the environment. Here, we present a sediment record from Xing Yun Lake in the Yunnan Province of China that reveals significant alterations to the lake, its ecosystem, and its watershed beginning as early as 500 AD. A comprehensive suite of biogeochemical and isotopic proxies reveal several rapid transitions related to changes in agriculture and lake-level management that coincides with cultural and dynastic transitions. The deterioration of contemporary environmental conditions at Xing Yun arises from a long history of anthropogenic manipulation, eutrophication, and pollution of the lake and its watershed. This study highlights the importance of using historical records of industrial and agricultural activities, including landscape modification, in conjunction with records of climate change, to place present day environmental concerns into a long-term context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)24-32
Number of pages9
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
StatePublished - Aug 15 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank David Pompeani, Matthew Finkenbinder, Bruce Finney, Katie Redling, and Justin Hillman for help with research and ChunLiang Gao and Jordan Abbott for assistance with fieldwork. We also thank Mark Brenner and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments that improved the quality of this manuscript. JQY acknowledges the financial support from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC grants 40571173 , 40871008 , and 41171171 ). DJB and MBA acknowledge US NSF grant EAR/IF 0948366 and BAS acknowledges US NSF grant AGS-1137750 .


  • Environmental change
  • Eutrophication
  • Human environment interactions
  • Paleolimnology


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