Jingyu Chen of Cloud Mountain Conservation, and Mihua Zao, a member of the Lishu ethnic group, discuss human-wildlife interactions and natural resource use in Lishu village, Yunnan Province, China.
The individuals photographed give their consent for use of this image.
Photo credit: Jiangting Yang, Cloud Mountain Conservation.

By Heidi Ma, Di Zhang, Lingyun Xiao, Yifu Wang, Lu Zhang, Carolyn Thompson, Jingyu Chen, Simon Dowell, Jan Axmacher, Zhi Lu, and Samuel Turvey.

This Plain Language Summary is published ahead of the article discussed; check back soon for a link to the full paper.

China is a biologically diverse country, and shows vast environmental, socioeconomic and cultural variation across its huge area. China has made major efforts to strengthen national conservation, but many threats originating from human activities still endanger the country’s unique biodiversity, and top-down policies alone are not sufficient to mitigate these pressures.

We consider a diverse set of conservation case studies that we derived from our research in China’s different social-ecological systems – ranging from the grasslands of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau to the Yangtze River and the tropical forests of Yunnan and Hainan – to illustrate the variety of ways that different local communities interact sustainably and unsustainably with nature. We examine the complexities in these systems and emphasize the diversity of local community-environment interactions, highlighting that successful conservation action requires robust empirical evidence gained from specific local human contexts, and that management efforts can have unintended consequences on both wildlife and people when not based on science.

To better incorporate human dimensions into conservation action in China, we advocate the need to integrate social science approaches into existing conservation research. Integrating social science approaches will help people to better understand human-wildlife dynamics, using findings from these approaches to guide policy and action, and valuing and including local and traditional knowledge. Improving interdisciplinary training for the next generation of promising researchers and practitioners is needed to ensure a positive future for conservation effectiveness in China.