Date of this Version
Earth-Science Reviews 159 (2016) pp. 388–403.
For thousands of years, humans have created different types of terraces in different sloping conditions, meant to mitigate flood risks, reduce soil erosion and conserve water. These anthropogenic landscapes can be found in tropical and subtropical rainforests, deserts, and arid and semiarid mountains across the globe. Despite the long history, the roles of and the mechanisms by which terracing improves ecosystem services (ESs) remain poorly understood. Using literature synthesis and quantitative analysis, the worldwide types, distributions, major benefits and issues of terracing are presented in this review. A key terracing indicator, defined as the ratio of different ESs under terraced and non-terraced slopes (δ), was used to quantify the role of terracing in providing ESs. Our results indicated that ESs provided by terracingwas generally positive because themean values of δ were mostly greater than one. The most prominent role of terracing was found in erosion control (11.46 ± 2.34), followed by runoff reduction (2.60 ± 1.79), biomass accumulation (1.94 ± 0.59), soil water recharge (1.20±0.23), and nutrient enhancement (1.20±0.48). Terracing, to a lesser extent, could also enhance the survival rates of plant seedlings, promote ecosystem restoration, and increase crop yields.While slopes experiencing severe human disturbance (e.g., overgrazing and deforestation) can generally become more stable after terracing, negative effects of terracing may occur in poorly-designed or poorly-managed terraces. Among the reasons are the lack of environmental legislation, changes in traditional concepts and lifestyles of local people, as well as price decreases for agricultural products. All of these can accelerate terrace abandonment and degradation. In light of these findings, possible solutions regarding socio-economic changes and techniques to improve already degraded terraces are discussed.