Date Published: March 30, 2017
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): Tianhong Li, Yao Ding, Judi Hewitt.
The regional policy in China is shifting from solely gross domestic product (GDP) orientation to development that is more balanced between economic growth and ecological protection, as well as achieving equality among regions. Using land use maps and the adjusted value coefficients to assess ecosystem service values (ESV) for the 1980s, 1995, 2000, and 2010, we estimated the ESV in Shaanxi Province for different years, and characterized the spatial and temporal distribution of ESV and GDP. The results demonstrated that the total value of ecosystem services in Shaanxi Province increased from 208.95 billion Yuan in the 1980s to 309.76 billion Yuan in 2010. Variation Coefficient (Cv) and Theil index (T) were used to reflect the disparities of GDP or ESV within the study area. The values of Cv in descending order are GDP, ESV per capita, ESV, and GDP per capita. The Theil indexes of GDP were much greater than the ones of ESV. Variations of Cv and T showed that disparity in GDP kept increasing from the 1980s to 2000, then decreased; while no significant change in regional disparity of ESV were detected in parallel. The cities with higher GDP usually contributed little to ESV, and vice versa. The variation in GDP and ESV, in terms of the prefectural totals and per capita values, increased from the 1980s to 2010. This study provides an accessible way for local decision makers to evaluate the regional balance between economic growth and ecosystem services.
Ecosystem services can be defined as the goods and services provided by ecosystems, which contribute to human welfare, both directly and indirectly , or the conditions and processes through which natural ecosystems and the species that comprise them to sustain and fulfill human life . The concept of ecosystem services has been increasingly used to highlight, measure, and value the degree of interdependence between humans and the rest of nature [3, 4]. Valuation of ecosystem services is useful to seek choices to manage natural and human-made capital more effectively and sustainably . It has become a subject of increased interest in the field of ecology, environmental economics and sustainable development .
The study mainly adopted the aggregate benefit transfer method proposed by Costanza et al.  and Xie et al. [15, 16] to calculate ecosystem value over large spatial and temporal scales. In this method, values for the ecosystem services were estimated by values of unit area multiplying with the area of each ecosystem. The method itself has some shortcomings, such as, it is difficult to estimate the values of unit area of ecological services, and the spatial heterogeneity of ecosystem services value is not considered . Another error source of the present study lies in matching ecosystem/biome classes with the land cover categories . The ecosystems/biomes used as proxies for the land cover categories are clearly not perfect matches in every case . Owning to the complexity and uncertainty [49–51], accurate calculation of absolute value of ecosystem services is not easy and always disputable. Besides the method used in this study, there are some other methods for estimating ESV such as those used in Chen and Zhang , Daily and Matson , Yu and Bi , and recently Ouyang et al. . Using the invest-based method, Ouyang Z et al.  estimated the ecological services in China and concluded that ecological services increase in Loess Plateau (whose area mainly overlaps the northern part of Shaanxi Province) in the western China from 2000 to 2010. His result is consistent with the result obtained in the present study although quantitative comparison cannot be made due to lack of data.
The total ESV for Shaanxi Province decreased from the 1980s to 1995 and 2000, and then increase to 2010, reflecting the positive effect of the national eco-environmental improvement project—Grain for Green–on the recovery of regional ESV in general. The three types of land use that made the largest contributions to the ESV were Woodland, Grassland, and Cropland. Soil formation and retention, waste treatment, and biodiversity protection were the three highest ESVs in all years of the study period. The ESVs in the 10 cities showed variation trends similar to those of the entire province.