To improve the ecological literacy of future generations

Photo credit: NSF

The Organ Mountains are a backdrop for the Chihuahuan Desert and encroaching city of Las Cruces.

Credit: Curtis Monger, New Mexico State University

Drylands: Desolate, scorched, uninhabitable? Scientists say otherwise

Complex ecosystem is patchwork of grasses, shrubs, agricultural fields, urban-dwelling species, including humans

New ways of looking at dryland ecosystems are detailed in a special journal issue. Credit: Ecological Society of America http://www.nsf.gov/news/mmg/media/images/esa_cover_f.jpg
New ways of looking at dryland ecosystems are detailed in a special journal issue.
Credit: Ecological Society of America http://www.nsf.gov/news/mmg/media/images/esa_cover_f.jpg

 

February 2, 2015

The following is part 17 in a series on the National Science Foundation’s Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network.

Visit parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine,10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and16.

Drylands evoke images of desolate, scorched, uninhabitable deserts.

But arid and semi-arid lands are complex ecosystems made up of grasses, shrubs, agricultural fields and urban-dwelling plants and animals, including us.

Globally, drylands are becoming mosaics that need fresh perspectives and explanations for ecosystem processes–views that go beyond traditional paradigms of grassland-to-shrubland conversion, researchers say.

Desertification: new views

Scientists detail findings on new paradigms for dryland ecology and management in the February 2015 issue of the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, published by the Ecological Society of America.

The issue was organized by ecologist Debra Peters, principal investigator of the Jornada Basin Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) site funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and based at the Jornada Experimental Range in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

“Historically, drylands have been studied through the lens of desertification–the transition from perennial grasslands to landscapes dominated by bare ground or woody plants that are easily eroded and unpalatable to domestic livestock,” says Peters.

However, recent studies show that transitions can occur across a range of environmental conditions and socioeconomic contexts.

These journal papers, says Peters, illustrate how long-term data from Jornada Basin is being used to generate new paradigms for understanding, managing and predicting dryland dynamics across diverse landscapes.

Threats to economic stability, global societies

 

Read the full article: National Science Foundation

 

 

 A shift from shrubland (left) to grassland (right) in the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico. Credit: Curtis Monger, New Mexico State University - http://www.nsf.gov/news/mmg/media/images/1(b)%20Peters_ecotone_f.jpg
A shift from shrubland (left) to grassland (right) in the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico.
Credit: Curtis Monger, New Mexico State University – http://www.nsf.gov/news/mmg/media/images/1(b)%20Peters_ecotone_f.jpg

 

 

Livestock grazing was drylands' main ecosystem service to humans; the picture is changing. Credit: NSF Jornada Basin LTER-USDA/ARS - http://www.nsf.gov/news/mmg/media/images/6(a)_yahdjian_cattle_8c0e2e6c-43d2-4e01-b5ef-579d0f7a4005_f.jpg
Livestock grazing was drylands’ main ecosystem service to humans; the picture is changing.
Credit: NSF Jornada Basin LTER-USDA/ARS – http://www.nsf.gov/news/mmg/media/images/6(a)_yahdjian_cattle_8c0e2e6c-43d2-4e01-b5ef-579d0f7a4005_f.jpg

 

 

Roots from woody shrubs dominate soil occupied by grasslands 100 years ago. Credit: Curtis Monger, New Mexico State University - http://www.nsf.gov/news/mmg/media/images/2_Monger_f.jpg
Roots from woody shrubs dominate soil occupied by grasslands 100 years ago.
Credit: Curtis Monger, New Mexico State University – http://www.nsf.gov/news/mmg/media/images/2_Monger_f.jpg

 

 

 Unexplained increases in perennial grasses in shrublands in part led to new drylands paradigms. Credit: NSF Jornada Basin LTER-ARS - http://www.nsf.gov/news/mmg/media/images/mesquite_dune_interspaces_grasses_f.jpg

Unexplained increases in perennial grasses in shrublands in part led to new drylands paradigms.
Credit: NSF Jornada Basin LTER-ARS – http://www.nsf.gov/news/mmg/media/images/mesquite_dune_interspaces_grasses_f.jpg

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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