About the SPECTRA programme

The SPECTRA programme seeks to enhance the sustainable development of one of the poorest regions of China, Guizhou, through cutting edge critical zone science undertaken by integrated, complementary and multidisciplinary teams of Chinese and UK scientists. The key question for management of the karst landscapes of SW China is "how can the highly heterogeneous critical zone resources be restored, to enable sustainable delivery of ecosystem services?" We know little about the geological, hydrological and ecological processes which control soil fertility and soil function in these landscapes and how best to manage them to maximise ecosystem service delivery. SPECTRA has been designed to address these questions through a suite of 4 interlinked workpackages.

The CZ will span a gradient from undisturbed natural vegetation through to human perturbed and highly degraded landscapes. Using cutting-edge approaches we will integrate measurements of:

  1. the three-dimensional distribution of plants (including roots), soil, fungi, and microbes;
  2. rates of rock weathering, elemental release and soil formation processes;
  3. rates of erosion and soil redistribution; and,
  4. pools and fluxes of soil organic C (SOC), nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P).

This will allow us to identify the biological controls on nutrient availability, soil formation and loss in the CZ and their response to perturbation, providing the rich evidence base needed to inform land management decision-making in the Guizhou province. In doing so, SPECTRA will directly address the Newton Fund objective of enhancing economic development and social welfare by providing rigorous applied scientific knowledge that will underpin the development of strategies to improve net ecological service delivery from the karst landscape, informing realistic economic and ecological compensation plans to alleviate poverty, particularly for the households that rely on fragile soils for a living. The project is also designed to maximise the benefits to the science communities of both countries, thereby bringing significant institutional benefits to all partners. Training of Chinese Early Career Researchers in state-of-the-art approaches and techniques in leading UK laboratories is an absolute priority of the scientific partnership, and combined with the networking opportunities between project partners in the global CZ community, will contribute significantly to meeting the Newton Fund objective of building the capacity for CZ Science in China.

The ultimate beneficiaries of this project will be the people of Guizhou karst region (population 35 million), which is one of the poorest regions in China with a GDP less than 50% of the national average. In response to the environmental deterioration and changing social conditions in the Guizhou karst region, the Chinese government has intervened to promote the abandonment of the most degraded cultivated land and its succession to grassland, shrub and forest. This strategy has met with mixed success and is not yet underpinned by well-developed plans to repay landowners for rational and sustainable use of land resources. This must be informed by science that quantifies current and potential ecosystem service delivery. There is significant potential for our research on the response, resilience and recovery of the karst critical zone to perturbation to inform improved land management strategies that will meet these demands, leading in turn to improved delivery of ecosystem services to the communities in this region and higher environmental quality, addressing poverty and the welfare of the population through development of long-term sustainable economic development.