Links  |Sitemap  |  Contact  |  Home  |  中文   |  CAS
 HomeAbout UsResearchScientistsInt`l CooperationNews | Education & TrainingJoin UsPapersResources 
  Research Divisions
  Research Progress
  Supporting System
  Research Themes
  Technology Transfer
Exploring and integrating cellulolytic systems ...
Special issue on Insects and Biofuels is published in Ins...

  Location: Home > Research > Research Progress
Recent Advances in Sino-USA Collaboration Project on Ecological Complexity and Ecosystem Services
[ 2005-10-17 ]

Project Motivation

The intersection of natural ecosystems and the human enterprise is a complex domain whose scale and importance appear to grow daily, as human economies intensify locally and become increasingly inter-connected due to processes of economic globalization (Kates et al. 2001, Clark et al. 2003). Nowhere are these trends more obvious in the modern world than in China, where a combination of its massive human population, its nascent transformation into a modern, market-based economy, and its increasing connection to the world via trade and immigration/emigration present a daunting prospect to those who seek to understand the global environment (Cohen 1995, Wu and Overton 2002, Normile 2004). This intersection of human endeavor and the “natural” world is an key focal point for the emerging field of biocomplexity (Colwell 1998, Michener et al. 2001), which seeks to understand the reciprocal and evolving interactions between human society and the biosphere. In particular, one of the most important challenges in accomplishing this understanding is to place the benefits of the “environment,” often abstract and ill-defined, into the formal context of their monetary value (direct and indirect) using the tools of the emerging field of ecological economics (Costanza et al. 1997, Milner-Gulland 1999, Daily et al. 2000, Daly and Farley 2004). To do this, the general strategy is to evaluate the “ecosystem services” provided by landscapes and ecosystems configured in different ways by human decision-making (Wackernagel et al. 1999, Heal 2000, Guo and Li 2001, Xiao et al. 2003, Xu et al. 2003). Accomplishing this in the framework of the long-time capitalistic economies of the West has already carried challenges. Implementing such assessments in the context of the dynamic hybrid socialist - capitalist economy of the transforming China represents a challenge of the highest degree. It is the purpose of this proposal to continue a process by which a group of American and Chinese scientists has begun to grapple with these issues.

Research and education objectives

The primary research and education activities of this activity are:
- To reciprocally exchange cutting-edge ideas, techniques, theories, and data sets pertaining to ecological complexity and ecosystem services among Chinese participants and a cross-section of US counterparts.
- To articulate a menu of focused research questions pertaining to ecological complexity and ecosystem services confronting both the US and China. Following up on discussions during Phase 1, these include: reciprocal species invasions; emerging infectious disease; hydrologic change and floodplain ecosystem services; biodiversity and ecosystem function; economic valuation of ecosystem services in China’s emerging mixed economy; and endangered species conservation in managed landscapes.
- To elaborate on means of facilitating productive interactions with aspiring Chinese students interested in graduate studies in ecology at US universities, and to identify opportunities for US students to perform relevant research or study in China.
- To follow-up on preliminary plans developed in China for K-12 curriculum materials (in particular, specific modules related to species invasions, floodplain alteration, and endangered species).

The products of these activities, including recommendations to the research community about important areas for fruitful collaboration, will be disseminated via papers published in appropriate journals, such as BioScience, Ambio, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment,or Ecological Complexity. In addition, agendas, presentation materials, workshop summaries, and other products will be communicated via our existing webpage

History of interactions between the collaborating parties

In summer 2001 a grant was awarded by NSF International Programs to Arizona State University (J. Elser, PI) to develop and execute Phase 1 of a scientific interchange between US and Chinese ecologists on the theme of “Ecological complexity and ecosystem services” in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Zoology (Chinese co-organizer, Dr. Zhibin Zhang). In its initial formulation, the intention was for the US contingent to be formed during fall of 2001 with the visit by US scientists to China to take place in spring/summer 2002. However various events intervened to delay this schedule, necessitating a series of additional activities during the period to sustain the exchange activity and to develop interactions prior to the actual visit. First came the terrorist attack of 9/11 of 2001. In the aftermath of this event, international travel was greatly curtailed and a decision was made by the PIs, in consultation with NSF program officers, to postpone the trip until spring 2003. Next came the SARS outbreak of spring 2003, leading to a second postponement of the US team’s visit. During the intervening years, a Chinese planning delegation was hosted in Washington DC and in Tempe AZ, the US participants met in Tempe AZ for preliminary discussions, and a video-teleconference was held involving selected U.S. and Chinese participants. Finally, in May / June 2004, a group of American scientists visited China for the actual exchange. Details about this trip are in the following.

Trip to China (22 May- 7 June 2004): In 2004, thirteen American scientists (see listing below, most of whom had never before visited China) plus two NSF program officers engaged in a series of intellectual interactions in China that have planted the seeds of productive collaboration between US and Chinese scientists interested in studying the complex connections between ecological systems and human societies, including possible economic feedbacks. These interactions took place at various locations in China (Beijing, Chongqing, Wuhan) and involved Chinese researchers associated with the Chinese Academy of Science (Institutes of Zoology, Botany, and Hydrobiology) and various universities. Ecological topics included basic ecological theory, invasive species, biodiversity and ecosystem function, hydrological alterations and landscape ecology, and emerging infectious disease, with discussions and brainstorming related to connecting these ecological phenomena with their economic context in terms of possible alterations in the overall ecosystem services that emerge under different scenarios of human impact. Because the discussions took place during an extensive period of travel and site visits, the challenge of particular contexts in China (e.g. the nature preserve at Shennongjia; the lower Yangtze River basin in the aftermath of the closing of Three Gorges Dam) became clear to all. During the visit, preliminary contacts were made between the US participants and various potential Chinese counterparts (many of whom are included in the Chinese delegation for Phase 2), areas of potential collaboration were identified, and abstract generalities became concrete particulars in the minds of the visitors. Thus, to solidify these connections and to provide an opportunity for Chinese scientists to have a similar transformative experience with respect to better understanding the situation in the USA, a return visit is needed. In the following section a description of how this exchange will be organized and coordinated is described.

Project planning, coordination, and execution

The exchange will be organized by Dr. James Elser (Professor, Arizona State University) working closely with his Chinese counterparts Dr. ZHANG Zhi-bin (Professor and Director, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences; see letter of cooperation from Dr. Zhang in Supplementary Materials) and Dr. XIE Yan (Research Associate Professor, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences). Much of the initial work in laying out these plans was completed in China during Phase 1. Elser will coordinate the overall itinerary for the US delegation, working with local hosts to arrange for local events and logistics at the sites the Chinese delegation will visit during their 2-week stay, currently slated for October 2005. Zhang and Xie will organize the group on the Chinese side, including coordinating visa applications and arranging for international plane flights for the Chinese participants. Institutional involvement on the US side will be considerable (see letters of support from various local hosts) and will include assistance with local arrangements for meeting rooms, coordination of local tours, and assisting with room reservations. All participating individuals and institutions are prepared to help in many ways to assure that the main workshops/symposia are successful.

Proposed U.S. Participants. It is expected that all members of the U.S. delegation that visited China in 2004 will participate in some aspect of the proposed itinerary, with several members playing an important role in local organization. Table below lists these participants and indicates those members playing a role in local organization of the Phase 2 itinerary. In addition to support to involve these Phase 1 participants, funds are also budgeted to defray expenses of attendance for 5-6 other scientists to participate either in the Vermont symposium or the Tempe workshop. Selection of these participants will follow after the events are widely advertised in relevant regions. Half of these slots will be reserved for postdoctoral or graduate student participants and special efforts will be made to include women and/or members of under-represented groups. It is important to note that limited funds will allow us to provide financial support for only 5-6 new participants (preferably postdocs or graduate students), most events during the delegation’s visit will be advertised and open to interested parties. Thus, the planned series of activities will actually bring a relatively large and diverse group of American researchers and students into contact with members of the Chinese delegation, both in formal settings (e.g. symposium lectures) but also informal interactions (e.g. small-group workshops at IES, field excursions, social and dinner events, etc).




Jim Elser*

Arizona Uni.

Ecological stochiometry, Limnology

Kathryn Cottingham

Dartmouse College

Disease ecology, Limnology

Valerie Eviner#

Inst. for Ecosystem Studies

Plant and soil ecology

Sarah Gergel

Uni of British Columnbia

Landscape ecology

David Lodge

Uni. of Dotre Dame

Invasive species, Community ecology

Shahim Naeem#

Uni. of Columbia

Biodiversity and ecosystem function

Andy Phillips#

San Diego Zoo

Conservation biology

Sara Tjossem#

Uni. of Columia

History of ecology and environmentalism

Austin Troy#

Uni. of Vermont

Natural resource management

Peter Turchin

Uni. of Connecticut

Theoretical population ecology

Mattew Wilson#

Uni. of Vermont

Ecological economics

Jingle Wu

Arizona University

Landscape ecology

 Visiting Chinese Participants.eleven scientists and three science administrators will comprise the Chinese delegation. As noted above, these participants have been selected after discussions between the US and Chinese organizers and include various individuals who were involved in interactions with US scientists during Phase 1. These scientists present a wide array of current scientific expertise in China, including microbial ecology, epidemiology, soil ecology, theoretical ecology, conservation biology, agroecology, landscape ecology, and ecological economics. Table below summarizes the Chinese visitors and their institution and research area.




Lizhe AN

Lanzhou Univeristy

Ecosystem conservation

Yongfei BAI

Institute of Botany, CAS

Plant ecology

Aimin CAO

Department of Development of Planning, Bureau of international cooperation of CAS



Department of US Cooperation, Bureau of international cooperation of CAS



Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanic Garden

Forest ecology

Baoguo LI

Northwest China University

Animal ecology


Institute of Hydrobiology, CAS

Ciliate molecular ecology and phylogeny

Gaodi XIE

Institute of Geographical Science and Natural Resources Research, CAS

Ecosystem services


Institute of Zoology, CAS


Zhenliang YU



Fuwen WEI

Institute of Zoology, CAS


Jiabao Zhang

Nanjing Institute of Soil Science, ,CAS

Agricultural ecology


Institute of Zoology, CAS

Animal ecology

Xiaomin ZHAO

Jiangxi Agricultural University


Chinese ecologists in America: a “roving workshop”

During the 2004 trip in China, Elser and Chinese counterpart Zhang discussed with the US participants and various Chinese colleagues a possible plan of activities for a reciprocal visit of Chinese colleagues to the USA. As a result of that discussion and subsequent deliberations, a plan for Phase 2 was developed (see Table below). Building on the types of activities that were most beneficial during the Phase 1 exchange, the plan involves a mix of formal symposia and workshops, informal meetings of Chinese visitors with local scientists and administrators, and field trips for direct inspection of field sites and research laboratories. The itinerary involves stops at the home institutions for various US participants from Phase 1 (see letters of support from local hosts in the Supplemental Documents). At each site, specific targeted activities will bring the Chinese scientists into intense discussions with a variety of American scientists (senior and junior, including students) interested in these topics and at each site specific tangible products are expected, especially the production of an edited proceedings from the planned symposium at the University of Vermont. This sustained sequence of activities will allow relationships to be solidified and initial discussions begun in China to be continued, expanded, and finalized. It will also give a broader array of American researchers who did not participate in the Phase 1 trip to China to get to know this group of Chinese scientists. Symposia and workshops in Vermont and Arizona will be advertised regionally in order to achieve wide participation by scientists and students (postdoctoral, graduate, undergraduate) from various local and regional institutions. Funds have been budgeted to defray the costs of attending for interested scientists who are in the general region, with a specific intention of supporting participation by graduate students and postdoctoral researchers interested in ecology and ecosystem services in China. In addition, relevant graduate and undergraduate classes at local universities will be invited to attend the symposia at UVM and ASU, thus providing broad exposure of these ideas and opportunities to aspiring ecologists. Thus, the planned activities will not only solidify existing relationships that were started in Phase 1 but will open up the range of contacts beyond the original American participants who went to China in 2004.




Oct 16th

In transit


Oct 17th


Workshop at Columbia University

Oct 18th


Visiting NY watershed project

Oct 19th


Workshop at IES

Oct 20th

In transit


Oct 21-22


Two day symposium

Oct 23rd


Field trip to Shelburne Farm

Oct 24th


Lake Champlain excursion

Oct 25th

In transit


Oct 26th


Field trip to Grand Canon

Oct 27th


Workshop at ASU

Oct 28th


Tour of Decision Center for a Desert City and Bio Design Institute

Oct 29th

In transit


Oct 30th

San Diego

Visiting habitat restoration project

Oct 31st

San Diego

Tour and workshop at San Diego Zoo

Nov 1st

In transit

Leaving for China

One of the highlights of this itinerary is the 2-day symposium at the University of Vermont. This will be widely advertised and we hope to attract scientists from around the northeast US region to attend. We also expect that a number of the US scientists who participated in the 2004 trip to China will participate in this event. The event will include a series of talks by American and Chinese participants but also a set of breakout groups designed to foster closer inter-personal connections among researchers interested in particular topics, allowing them to identify and sketch out particular ideas and avenues for research projects. It is our intention that presentations at this symposium will be published as proceedings in an appropriate venue, such as the new journal Ecological Complexity. Another highlight of the pro10 posed itinerary is a (shorter) symposium to be held at Arizona State University under the auspices of its new International Institute for Sustainability. This event will also be advertised regionally and we hope to attract interested scientists from the desert southwest and southern California to attend. In this workshop a somewhat narrower scope of topics will be covered, including ongoing efforts involving ASU scientists in the areas of urban ecology, emerging diseases in wildlife, and endangered species conservation. This symposium will be locally organized by landscape ecologist Dr. Jingle Wu, a co-PI on the CAP Urban Ecology LTER project ( and a member of the Phase 1 delegation to China. Members of the Chinese delegation will have ample opportunity to interact with LTER PIs and students, with graduate students associated with the Urban Ecology IGERT program (, and with investigators associated with the newly established NSF-funded Decision Center for a Desert City ( A planned product of this symposium is a white paper on ecological research priorities for rapidly urbanizing areas, a topic of considerable interest to both US and Chinese investigators and government agencies. Targeted outlets for this product include Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment and Urban Ecology.

Outcomes and long-term strategies for continuing collaboration

It is expected that the activities in our innovative series of “roving” meetings, workshops, and symposia will lead to new research and training endeavors of considerable mutual interest to scientists in both countries. Based on interactions initiated during the 2004 exchange, here is a list of particular collaborative projects and endeavors that are currently under development and that will be the focus of discussions during the Phase 2 activities.

Biodiversity and ecosystem function in Inner Mongolia grasslands (Jingle Wu, Shahid Naeem, and Jim Elser with Xingguo Han (Director) and Bai Yongfei, Institute of Botany, CAS): Jingle Wu (ASU) has had a long-standing collaboration with the CAS Institute of Bot11 any for investigations of aspects of landscape ecology and ecosystem dynamics in the Inner Mongolia grassland ecosystem. The CAS is embarking on a very large-scale manipulation of grassland biodiversity in conjunction with manipulations of water and nutrient inputs; Phase 2 participant Bai Yongfei is one of the lead investigators. During the 2004 visit, Naeem and Elser entered discussions with Han’s group about possible involvement and in September 2004 Naeem visited Inner Mongolia to examine the field site. It is anticipated that, during the Phase 2 visit, these investigators will be able to finalize their discussions of particular response variables, modeling strategies, and other areas of intersection in support of grant proposals that will fund involvement of US personnel from the laboratories of Wu, Naeem, and Elser in this endeavor.

Reciprocal invasions: opportunities for graduate training (David Lodge and Xie Yan, Zhang Zhibin, and Zhu Yongguan): As a result of relationships established during Phase 1, Lodge included an international component in the proposal for the Invasive Species IGERT renewal that would include an exchange of graduate students between U. Notre Dame and various Chinese institutions (CAS Institute of Zoology, CAS Institute of Botany, and CAS Institute of Hydrobiology). If this IGERT renewal is funded, events associated with this Phase 2 visit will provide an excellent opportunity for IGERT students to interact with Chinese scientists and develop preliminary knowledge of Chinese research on invasive species and to identify possible Chinese mentors.

Reciprocal plant invasions: cooperative experiments (Valerie Eviner and Zhu Yongguan). While much attention has been given to the potential of invasive plants to out-compete natives and change biogeochemical cycling, the potential for plants to impact ecosystems or communities may strongly rely on their association with soil microbes. During Phase 1 of this exchange, Zhu and Eviner began planning of studies to investigate how plant-associated microbial communities vary in a plant’s native vs. invaded habitat, and if this impacts the plant’s competitive ability and effects on soil carbon and nutrient cycling. The current plan is to focus on plant species that are native to China and invasive to the US (Japanese stiltgrass- Microstegium viminuem, Japanese knotweed- Polygonum cuspidatum, asian bittersweet- Celastrus orbiculatus); native to the US and invasive to China (bushy goldenrod- Solidago graminifolia, chickweed- Ageratum conyzoides, Virginia plantain- Plantago virginica), and non-native invasives in both the US and China (garlic mustard- Allilaria petiolata, wild oat12 Avena fatua). These experiments will assess how differences in soil microbial communities “home” vs. “away” impact the growth and biogeochemical effects of these plants. Discussions between Eviner and Zhu during the proposed visit will contribute momentum towards development of a full proposal to be submitted to both NSF Ecology and the Chinese Natural Science Foundation.

Strategies for in situ endangered species conservation in China (Andy Phillips with Xie Yan, Cao Min, and Li Baoguo): Various discussions during Phase 1 focused on the idea that minimizing the loss of biodiversity requires that habitat management decisions be based on accurate scientific information. Current issues with biodiversity loss in China require an increased commitment to in situ projects using updated technologies. As a result of the relationships established during Phase 1, Phillips and Xie are collaborating on a manuscript for Acta Sinica that will suggest alternative strategies for managing reserve habitat, using the giant panda as an example. Further details and new plans for additional efforts in the area of in situ conservation research are a focus of planned interactions between CAS and US scientists in Phase 2, especially the slate of meetings scheduled for the delegation’s visit to the Zoological Society of San Diego.

Economic valuation and ecosystem services in China (Matt Wilson and Austin Troy, with Zhao Xiaomin, Xie Gaodi, and Xie Yan): One of the biggest challenges that faced the participants during Phase 1 was to identify key personnel in China who were engaged in economic valuation of ecosystem services in the context of the Chinese socio-political system. Preliminary discussions during Phase 1 with Dr. Du Yun (CAS Institute of Geodesy and Geophysics and director of the Hubei Environment and Disaster Monitoring Lab) were productive in focusing ideas related to land-use change, multiple economics uses, and economic impacts of floodplain management in the lower Yangtze River basin. During Phase 2 these ideas will be solidified via further interactions between Wilson, Troy, plus other US participants with key members of the planned Chinese delegation with similar interests, including Zhao Xiaomin, Xie Gaodi, and Xie Yan. It is expected that a prospectus will be produced about opportunities and challenges of implementing ecosystem services valuation protocols in the Chinese context.

There seems little doubt that the social, political, and environmental trends that are now accelerating in China will have a variety of complex local, regional, and global impacts of tremendous fundamental and topical interest. The organizers and participants in these interactions are deeply committed to the internationalization of ecological science and to the goal of cooperating in inter-disciplinary environmental research most aligned with critical societal needs. The Phase 2 activities described in this proposal will solidify important personal and institutional links that are essential if the scientific community is to generate useful knowledge with which society can become aware of and manage the global impacts of the two nations whose activities most intensely challenge the long-term sustainability of the human endeavor.

Download Files>>>
Related Links >>>
Tel: +86-10-64807098, Fax: +86-10-64807099, Email:
Address: 1 Beichen West Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100101, P.R.China
Internet Explorer 6.0+, best view with resolution 1024x768