Strengthening protected areas for biodiversity and ecosystem services in China

Weihua Xu, Yi Xiao, Jingjing Zhang, Wu Yang, Lu Zhang, Vanessa Hull, Zhi Wang, Hua Zheng, Jianguo Liu, Stephen Polasky, Ling Jiang, Yang Xiao, Xuewei Shi, Enming Rao, Fei Lu, Xiaoke Wang, Gretchen C. Daily, Zhiyun Ouyang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

524 Scopus citations


Recent expansion of the scale of human activities poses severe threats to Earth's life-support systems. Increasingly, protected areas (PAs) are expected to serve dual goals: protect biodiversity and secure ecosystem services. We report a nationwide assessment for China, quantifying the provision of threatened species habitat and four key regulating services - water retention, soil retention, sandstorm prevention, and carbon sequestration - in nature reserves (the primary category of PAs in China). We find that China's nature reserves serve moderately well for mammals and birds, but not for other major taxa, nor for these key regulating ecosystem services. China's nature reserves encompass 15.1% of the country's land surface. They capture 17.9% and 16.4% of the entire habitat area for threatened mammals and birds, but only 13.1% for plants, 10.0% for amphibians, and 8.5% for reptiles. Nature reserves encompass only 10.2-12.5% of the source areas for the four key regulating services. They are concentrated in western China, whereas much threatened species' habitat and regulating service source areas occur in eastern provinces. Our analysis illuminates a strategy for greatly strengthening PAs, through creating the first comprehensive national park system of China. This would encompass both nature reserves, in which human activities are highly restricted, and a new category of PAs for ecosystem services, in which human activities not impacting key services are permitted. This could close the gap in a politically feasible way. We also propose a new category of PAs globally, for sustaining the provision of ecosystems services and achieving sustainable development goals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1601-1606
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number7
StatePublished - Feb 14 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Cao Lei and Jiang Jianping for valuable suggestions on threatened species distribution and the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences for providing national nature reserves data. This work was supported by the Ministry of Finance of China through the Ministry of Environmental Protection/Chinese Academy of Sciences project "Survey and Assessment of National Ecosystem Changes Between 2000 and 2010, China;" the Paulson Institute; the Heren Foundation; the Natural Capital Project; and the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.


  • Conservation strategy
  • Ecosystem services
  • Protected areas
  • Sustainable development
  • Threatened species representation


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