Monoculture rubber plantations have been replacing tropical rain forests substantially in Southern China and Southeast Asia over the past several decades, which have affected human wellbeing and ecosystem services. However, to the best of our knowledge on the extent of rubber plantation expansion and their stand ages is limited. We tracked the spatiotemporal dynamics of deciduous rubber plantations in Xishuangbanna, the second largest natural rubber production region in China, from 2000 to 2010 using time-series data from the Phased Array type L-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (PALSAR), Landsat, and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS). We found that rubber plantations have been expanding across a gradient from the low-elevation plains to the high elevation mountains. The areas of deciduous rubber plantations with stand ages ≤5, 6–10, and ≥11-year old were ~1.2 × 105 ha, ~0.8 × 105 ha, and ~2.9 × 105 ha, respectively. Older rubber plantations were mainly located in low-elevation and species-rich regions (500–900 m) and younger rubber trees were distributed in areas of relative high-elevation with fragile ecosystems. Economic and market factors have driven the expansion of rubber plantations, which is not only a threat to biodiversity and environmental sustainability, but also a trigger for climatic disasters. This study illustrates that the integration of microwave, optical, and thermal data is an effective method for mapping deciduous rubber plantations in tropical mountainous regions and determining their stand ages. Our results demonstrate the spatiotemporal pattern of rubber expansions over the first decade of this century.

Full citation

Kou W., Dong J., Xiao X., Hernandez A.J., Qin Y., Zhang G., Chen B., Lu N., Doughty R. (2018). Expansion dynamics of deciduous rubber plantations in Xishuangbanna, China during 2000–2010. GIScience & Remote Sensing, 55:1-21. 10.1080/15481603.2018.1466441.