There is considerable debate about the causes of grassland degradation and desertification in China. The discussion is rekindled by recent studies that claim restoration. The reversal in degradation is attributed to policies, which include the grazing ban and the pasture contract system. Contrarily, this article maintains that these studies disregard the complexity and multilayered nature of grassland degradation, and questions whether aforementioned policies have had this effect. In this context, we report on one of the first long-term surveys (1995 and 2011) of herders' perceptions. The survey (492 valid responses) represents two ecoregions: the semiarid desert/steppe and Loess Plateau pasture. Based on the data, we adopted a renewed analytical model for scientists, termed the CCC-Framework. The model calls for caution in proposing certain restoration measures when uncertainties are identified around a triple C: (1) condition of vegetation; (2) causality of degradation; and (3) costs of implementation. According to this framework, we establish uncertainty about the condition of allegedly restored vegetation, with particular reference to herders' perceived rise in nonpalatable grass species. Moreover, causality between grassland restoration and effect is difficult to ascertain due the short time frame in which most studies have been conducted. Lastly, it is doubtful whether to date undetermined ecological benefits outweigh implementation costs, especially as the survey pinpointed herders' loss of livelihood without alternative income, illegal grazing, low legal understanding, and limited access to grassland rights.
The stratified distribution of soil organic carbon (SOC) provides a potential means of eliminating the difference in soil background for understanding its response to ecological processes. We assessed the feasibility of SOC stratification ratio (SR) as an index to estimate the dynamics of SOC sequestration and soil quality during ecological restoration. SOC, total nitrogen, and available nitrogen contents were measured at restored sites containing three vegetation types with different stand ages and slope gradients, also at sites with three kinds of agricultural management on the hilly Loess Plateau, China. SR and SOC density (SOCD) showed a consistently significant trend of linear increase along the revegetation chronosequences. The proportion of the annual increase rates of SR to SOCD were approximately 1:15 and 1:5 for SR1 (0-5:5-10 cm) and SR2 (0-5:20-30 cm), indicating that SR of the shallow soil layers (0-10 cm) could estimate SOC accumulation to a depth of 30 cm. SRs significantly increased owing to the ecosystem restorations. Also, SRs could discriminate the difference in SOC sequestration and soil quality between vegetation types. SR, however, could not precisely indicate the variation of SOC sequestration and soil quality under different agricultural management. The study suggested that SR was an efficient indicator of the dynamics of SOC sequestration and soil quality, and an SR2 (0-5:20-30 cm) >2 indicated a distinct improvement of SOC sequestration and soil quality in ecological restoration on the hilly Loess Plateau.
Natural capital degradation worldwide signals the growing need for larger investments in both nature conservation and ecosystem services provision and management. The role of large-scale ecological restoration is a vital part of the work that is needed. One important way to advance the science, practice, and policy on ecological restoration is to develop and promote bilateral and multilateral cooperation among and within countries. In this article, we explore prospects for south-south cooperation for large-scale ecological restoration. Emphasis is given to experience and expertise sharing, cofinancing, and codevelopment of new knowledge and know-how for more effective policy and practice worldwide, especially in developing and newly industrialized countries.