Exploring the formulation of ecological management policies by quantifying interregional primary ecosystem service flows in Yangtze River Delta region, China (2023)

Journal of Environmental Management

Volume 284,

15 April 2021

, 112042

Author links open overlay panel, , , ,


Ecosystem services (ESs) play an important supporting role in the development of human society and the economy. Despite the increasing number of ESs quantitative evaluation studies that have been conducted at different scales, the assessment of ESs flows between different administrative regions, which provides valuable implications for ecological protection and compensation, has drawn little attention. The aim of this study is to fill in this gap by providing a comprehensive ES interregional flow analysis method that evaluates ecosystem service values (ESVs) and quantifies the interregional flows in the Yangtze River Delta (YRD), which is home to one of the largest urban agglomerations in China. The results showed that the total ESV of the YRD increased from 2.02E+12 Chinese Yuan (CNY) in 2000 to 2.33E+12 CNY in 2019, a 15.23% increase rate. All types of ESVs displayed an increasing trend during the 20 years. According to the analysis of interregional ES flows in the YRD, Zhejiang province played a crucial role as a service providing area (SPA) for the spatial value transfer at the provincial level in both 2000 and 2019. Anhui province was the largest service benefitting area (SBA) of water conservation and CSOP, while Jiangsu province was the largest SBA of soil retention. The recognition of interregional ESV flows can provide valuable information for environmental planning and management to help improve China's ecological compensation policies for different administrative divisions.


Ecosystem services (ESs) generally refer to the benefits that humans acquire from ecosystems, which directly or indirectly ontribute to sustainable human wellbeing (Costanza, 2020; Hasan et al., 2020). In the early stage, Daily (1997) introduced people's cognitive process of ESs and the related research progress in detail. Costanza et al. (1997) classified and valued global ESs at the same year. Based on the former researches, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) formally summarized ESs into four categories, namely, provisioning services, regulating services, cultural services, and supporting services (MA, 2005). After the report was submitted, it was widely recognized by scholars worldwide and resulted in numerous related studies. Most of the subsequent studies on the evaluation of ESs have adopted the classification framework proposed in the MA. Since then, for more than two decades, a large number of studies have been conducted on ESs using different scales, such as global, countries, regions, and cities. These studies have included an accounting of the physical quantities and economic values (Costanza et al., 2014; de Groot et al., 2012; Jiang et al., 2020; Sannigrahi et al., 2019).

In recent years, with the deepening of research on ESs, the assessment of ESs has become more detailed and comprehensive, and researchers have attempted to pay more attention to the combinability of evaluation results and actual policy applications. In the aspect of ESs evaluation, Viglizzo et al. (2012) discussed the link to nature in state-controlled and market-controlled policies. The results indicated that both economic and bio-physical valuations of ESs are valuable to compare with social and economic indicators and to make subsequent decisions. Cord et al. (2017) reviewed the literature on ESs relationships and proposed directions for future study. In the aspect of specific ecological projects evaluation, Zheng et al. (2013) evaluated the Paddy Land-to-Dry Land (PLDL) program in Beijing, China. The results showed that this program was a successful example of water users paying upstream landholders to improve water quantity and quality through land use changes. A synthesis study was conducted on the ESs of the Miyun Reservoir, and the results showed that effectively resolved trade-offs among multiple ESs were suggested for the formulation of regional development policies (Zheng et al., 2016). In the aspect of ESs based policy formulation and management, the importance of ES trade-offs analyses was discussed related to the spatial planning of stakeholder choices (Turkelboom et al., 2018). An ecosystem asset account was established based on ESs valuations that offered policy implications for the national government (Vačkářů and Grammatikopoulou, 2019). According to the above research, it can be concluded that in recent years, scholars have conducted in-depth research both on ES method theories and case studies. The value accounting of ESs provides a reference for the formulation of ecological management policies. In addition, when combined with sustainable development policies and an exploration of the trade-offs and synergies between the different types of ESs, the assessment results are more targeted and practical.

Despite the continued growth of research regarding ESs assessments, there have been few studies that have investigated interregional ESs flows (Kleemann et al., 2020). Most of the current ESs accounting research is conducted based on administrative borders, such as countries or cities, while the scope of spatial flows and influence of ESs typically cross regions and administrative boundaries (López-Hoffman et al., 2010). Since ecological policies, like ecological compensation, are typically formulated using different administrative units and implemented within their administrative jurisdiction, the scope of impact of ESs is typically ignored. The ESs flows across administrative regions are not fully quantified and not taken into consideration in policy-making. In fact, cross-administrative ESs flows can benefit multiple administrative units at the same time. Quantifying the impact of interregional ES flows is important, as it will provide evidence to develop metrics and national indicators and inform certification schemes, trade, and natural resource management (Costanza, 2020; Koellner et al., 2019).

In this study, we adopted breaking point theory to analyze the interregional flows of the primary ESs, and it is applied to the Yangtze River Delta (YRD) region as a case study. Breaking point theory is originated from Newton's law of gravity, and has been developed and widely used in economic and social science research, the result is indicating the linkage force among different regions (Anderson et al., 2010; Converse, 1949; Hodder, 1974; Simini et al., 2012). Here we adopt it to qualify the ES flow in the YRD both at provincial and city level with and input of ESVs distribution. In recent years, the breaking point model has also been applied to the research of spatial transfer of ecological assets (Chen et al., 2014; Fan et al., 2007). The YRD contains the largest urban agglomeration in China, as well as one of the most economically developed regions in China (Yu et al., 2020; Zhang et al., 2020). As one of the most economically dynamic regions of China, it is very necessary to pay more attention to its environmental protection and ecological conservation, which has been widely recognized both at local and national level. As one of the key regional economic integration plans in China, to better understand how its intra-regional ESs flow will be crucial for policy formation and eco-environmental governance. The framework of this study by adopting breaking point theory into ESs flow analysis which be potentially useful for ESs evaluations especially when it comes to inter- or intra-regional scale study. The rest of this paper is structured as follows: section 2 presents the methodology and data sources, section 3 Results, 4 Discussion present the results and discussion respectively, section 5 presents the conclusion of this paper.

Section snippets

Study area and data sources

The Yangtze River Delta (YRD) region is located along the east coast of China between 27°1′–35°20′N and 114°5′–123°10′E. The area of the YRD is approximately 358,000km2 and includes one municipality (Shanghai) and three provinces, i.e., Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Anhui (Fig. 1). In addition to the high level of economic development, the YRD also possesses abundant ecological resources. For example, Zhejiang was ranked as the first ecological province in China in 2020, with a high comprehensive


The land uses in the YRD in 2000 and 2019 were generated using ArcGIS 10.7, and the result is presented in Supplementary Figure S1. The statistical analysis of the transfer matrix of land use during 2000–2019 is shown in Table 1. The spatial distribution of land use transfer between 2000 and 2019 is represented in Supplementary Figure S2. According to the statistical results in Table 1, the area of forest, grassland, and cropland all show a decreasing trend, indicating that the area of


The regional differences for each ESV were significant, with Zhejiang having much higher ESVs for each type than the other regions. This was primarily due to the abundant forest resources and water resources in Zhejiang. The economic value of ecosystems was 1.09E+12 CNY in Zhejiang in 2019, which was 46.59% of the total ESVs in the YRD. During the past 19 years, the spatial pattern of ESVs has changed slightly. The value of soil retention in mountainous areas has become higher, for instance, in


This study quantified the main ESVs in the YRD. The total ESV of the YRD was 2.02E+12 CNY and 2.33E+12 CNY in 2000 and 2019, respectively, indicating an increase of 15.23% of the total YRD's ESVs from 2000 to 2019. The spatial distribution of soil retention, water conservation, and CSOP in the YRD were revealed. The overall trend of the ESVs indicated that they were high in the south and low in the north. This was consistent with the status quo of land use changes, that is, forests and

Credit author statement

Wang, C.: Conceptualization, Methodology, Software, Funding acquisition, Writing – original draft. Li, W., Sun, M.,: Conceptualization, Writing – review & editing. Wang, Y.: Conceptualization, Supervision, Funding acquisition, Project administration, Writing – review & editing. Wang, S.: Formal analysis, Supervision, Writing – review, revision & editing.

Declaration of competing interest

The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.


This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No.71904031; No.71774032), Newton Advanced Fellowship from the British Academy and the Newton Fund (NAFR2180103), and Shanghai Committee of Science and Technology Fund (19DZ1203300 and 19DZ1203304).

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