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Journal of Arid Land  2020, Vol. 12 Issue (1): 29-43    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-019-0031-8
Research article     
Land cover change and eco-environmental quality response of different geomorphic units on the Chinese Loess Plateau
SONG Yongyong1, XUE Dongqian1,*(), DAI Lanhai1, WANG Pengtao2, HUANG Xiaogang1, XIA Siyou3
1 School of Geography and Tourism, Shaanxi Normal University, Xi'an 710119, China
2 School of Tourism & Research Institute of Human Geography, Xi'an International Studies University, Xi'an 710128, China;
3 School of Geography Science, Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing 210023, China
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Land cover in the Chinese Loess Plateau has undergone dramatic changes since the late 1980s. Revealing the trend in land cover change and eco-environmental quality response of different geomorphic units in this stage is a realistic requirement for promoting sustainable development of the Chinese Loess Plateau. Based on the data of geomorphic units and land cover in 1990, 2000, 2010 and 2018 of the Chinese Loess Plateau, we studied the trend of land cover change and eco-environmental quality response of different geomorphic units by using a significance index of land cover change, a proportion index of land cover change and an eco-environmental response model. The results indicated that from 1990 to 2018, the areas of forestland and construction land substantially increased, whereas those of cropland, grassland, wetland and unused land considerably decreased. Land cover change exhibited large geomorphic differences, and the main conversion of land cover was from cropland into other land types. Unstable trend of land cover change in the loess tablelands and sandy loess hills declined, whereas the unstable trends in the other geomorphic units enhanced. Eco-environmental quality varied among different geomorphic units. The expansion of construction land and degradation of forestland, grassland and wetland resulted in the deterioration of eco-environmental quality. The conversion of cropland and unused land into forestland and grassland, and the conversion of grassland into forestland were the main factors that drove the improvement of eco-environmental quality. The findings of this study may provide theoretical reference and support decision making for the optimization of land use structure and the improvement of eco-environmental quality on the Chinese Loess Plateau.

Key wordscropland      degradation      eco-environmental quality index      grassland      human activity      unused land      relative ecological value     
Received: 23 August 2018      Published: 10 February 2020
Corresponding Authors: Dongqian XUE     E-mail:
About author: *Corresponding author: XUE Dongqian (E-mail:
Cite this article:

SONG Yongyong, XUE Dongqian, DAI Lanhai, WANG Pengtao, HUANG Xiaogang, XIA Siyou. Land cover change and eco-environmental quality response of different geomorphic units on the Chinese Loess Plateau. Journal of Arid Land, 2020, 12(1): 29-43.

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Fig. 1 Spatial distribution (a) and area proportion (b) of 10 types of geomorphic units on the Chinese Loess Plateau. LT, loess tableland; RAP, river alluvial plain; LBH, loess beam hill; LMH, loess mound hill; LVH, loess valley hill; LHIB, loess hills of intermountain basin; SLH, sandy loess hill; SBH, sand blown hill; SSH, soil stone hill; SSM, soil stone mountain. The abbreviations are the same as in Figures 4 and 5 and Table 3.
Fig. 2 Land cover changes on the Chinese Loess Plateau in 1990 (a), 2000 (b), 2010 (c) and 2018 (d)
Index Cropland Forestland Grassland Wetland Construction land Unused land
Coefficient of ecosystem service value (CNY/(hm2•a)) 6114.3 19,334.0 6406.5 5,5489.0 0.0 371.4
Relative ecological value 0.110 0.348 0.116 1.000 0.000 0.007
Table 1 Relative ecological values of different types of land cover on the Chinese Loess Plateau
Fig. 3 Spatial distribution of land cover change on the Chinese Loess Plateau from 1990 to 2018
Phase Type of conversion Area of conversion (km2) Ci (%) D (%)
1990-2000 Grassland into cropland 3477.24 25.93 0.55
Unused land into grassland 2216.95 16.54 0.35
Grassland into unused land 1396.36 10.41 0.22
Cropland into grassland 1180.17 8.80 0.19
Cropland into construction land 1034.60 7.72 0.17
Forestland into grassland 860.72 6.42 0.14
Cumulative area of conversions 10,166.04 75.82 1.62
Others 3241.40 24.18 0.52
Total (30 types) 13,407.45 100.00 2.14
2000-2010 Cropland into grassland 9221.81 19.69 1.47
Grassland into cropland 7453.21 15.91 1.19
Cropland into construction land 5604.95 11.96 0.89
Unused land into grassland 4059.94 8.67 0.65
Grassland into forestland 3148.83 6.72 0.50
Cropland into forestland 3,096.33 6.61 0.49
Grassland into unused land 2250.93 4.80 0.36
Cumulative area of conversions 34,836.00 74.36 5.55
Others 12,010.17 25.64 1.91
Total (30 types) 46,846.17 100.00 7.47
2010-2018 Cropland into grassland 14,673.72 25.13 2.34
Grassland into cropland 13,474.82 23.08 2.15
Cropland into construction land 4323.83 7.41 0.69
Grassland into forestland 4040.14 6.92 0.64
Forestland into grassland 3554.50 6.09 0.56
Grassland into construction land 2562.50 4.39 0.41
Cumulative area of conversions 42,629.50 73.02 6.79
Others 15,749.95 26.98 2.51
Total (30 types) 58,379.45 100.00 9.30
1990-2018 Cropland into grassland 20,489.52 21.53 3.27
Grassland into cropland 19,614.42 20.62 3.13
Cropland into construction land 9725.86 10.22 1.55
Unused land into grassland 6806.69 7.15 1.09
Grassland into forestland 6658.70 7.00 1.06
Forestland to grassland 4917.78 5.17 0.78
Cumulative area of conversions 68,212.97 71.69 10.88
Others 26,938.93 28.31 4.29
Total (30 types) 95,151.90 100.00 15.17
Table 2 Types of land cover change on the Chinese Loess Plateau from 1990 to 2018
Fig. 4 Significance index of land cover change (Ci) of different geomorphic units on the Chinese Loess Plateau in different periods. 1, cropland; 2, forestland; 3, grassland; 4, wetland; 5, construction land; 6, unused land. Symbol '→' represents the conversion of land cover change.
Fig. 5 Proportion index of land cover change (D) of different geomorphic units on the Chinese Loess Plateau from 1990 to 2018
Type of geomorphic unit EQI in 1990 EQI in 2000 EQI in 2010 EQI in 2018 Average EQI
LT 0.1488 0.1481 0.1474 0.1471 0.1478
RAP 0.1347 0.1333 0.1310 0.1315 0.1326
LBH 0.1328 0.1328 0.1363 0.1366 0.1347
LMH 0.1471 0.1483 0.1486 0.1476 0.1479
LVH 0.1242 0.1243 0.1266 0.1264 0.1254
LHIB 0.1602 0.1599 0.1606 0.1593 0.1600
SLH 0.1370 0.1368 0.1380 0.1350 0.1367
SBH 0.1082 0.1091 0.1084 0.1089 0.1087
SSH 0.2241 0.2227 0.2235 0.2237 0.2235
SSM 0.1981 0.1972 0.1977 0.1979 0.1977
Total 0.1506 0.1503 0.1504 0.1505 0.1505
Table 3 Eco-environmental quality index (EQI) of different geomorphic units on the Chinese Loess Plateau from 1990 to 2018
Fig. 6 Change in the eco-environment quality index of different geomorphic units on the Chinese Loess Plateau from 1990 to 2018
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