[Background] The key to integrated watershed management is to take simultaneous account of environmental, economic, and social development goals; hence, a multi-objective decision making approach is required. However, our understanding and application of multi-objective decision making in watershed management remains limited. [Objective] The objective of this study was to develop a multi-objective decision making system (MDMS) that could simultaneously handle multiple problems and objectives in a small watershed based on the relationships among land, water and economy. [Methods] The MDMS was coupled with the watershed hydrological model and economic benefit evaluation model to comprehensively simulate the watershed operational process, and established a multi-objective function to minimize sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus outputs, while maximizing the economic benefits for integrated watershed management. The MDMS also utilized an improved meta-heuristic algorithm to optimize the agricultural land use structure of the small watershed to obtain the best integrated management plan at the small watershed scale. [Results] We found that the MDMS achieved seamless connections between automatic updating, analysis, and the optimization of land use structures in the iterative process, and successfully obtained an optimal scheme from a large number of agricultural land use structure alternatives, with particularly high time efficiencies. [Conclusions] Overall, the MDMS effectively controlled the negative impacts of crop planting on the environment, and simultaneously considered the economic benefits, which might assist managers in arriving at efficient scientific decisions toward the integrated management of small agricultural watersheds.
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