To restore the grasslands of the Great Plains, a Nebraska ecologist says, bring back high intensity fires

This is a UAS prototype for fire ignitions, from figure 4 of Twidwell D et al (2016) Front Ecol Environ 14(6): 333-339. Credit: ESA –

Restoring prairie and fighting wildfire with (drone launched) fire(balls)

Source: Ecological Society of America


One ecologist wants to change the way we think about prescribed burns. The professor says he can harness extreme fire to restore grasslands on the Great Plains — and he has created a small drone that launches ping-pong balls of fire to help him do it safely and cheaply.

Read the full article: Science Daily



Success stories about food crops and drought-resistant plants





by Prof. Dr. Willem Van Cotthem (Ghent University, Belgium)

Please read this article at:

Forest restoration projects and biodiversity

Photo credit: Google

The International Day for Biological Diversity 2011: Forest Biodiversity


Tree genetic diversity is key to success for forest restoration projects

The importance of forests to climatic stability and biodiversity is widely understood, and reflected in the surge of interest in recent decades in large-scale forest restoration projects. The latest such plans are extremely ambitious, requiring significant levels of investment: the Bonn Challenge, for example, brings together international commitments to restore 150 million hectares of lost forests and degraded lands worldwide by 2020; Initiative 20×20 aims to restore 20 million hectares by 2020 in Latin America and India’s Green Mission aims to restore 5 million hectares.

While the potential gains from reforesting landscapes are substantial, there is a need to confront the often disappointing reality: to date, many restoration projects have achieved only limited success, or have failed completely. The reasons for this are complex and not fully understood; there has been little by way of rigorous evaluation of the success factors for restoration projects. However a review of the studies that have been conducted has revealed important insights into the effect of tree genetics on the chances of success, and offers valuable pointers for future tree planting projects.

Projects designed to return degraded land to natural forest, with associated improvements in ecological function and biodiversity, rightly focus on native tree species. The review suggests that a deeper level of ecological awareness and a more nuanced approach to tree selection than have been previously deployed could help to attain the desired outcome of resilient, self-sustaining forest ecosystems.

Writing in a special edition of the Forest Ecology & Management journal, as part of the Forest Genetic Resources series, scientists report that inadequate attention to genetic considerations in choosing planting material can have an adverse impact on outcomes.

Even native tree species can be genetically ill-matched to the environmental conditions at the restoration site if the planting material is not well chosen. This can result in a deleterious effect on the trees’ growth, potential for survival and reproductive success.

Read the full story: Bioversity International

Reforestation the easy way

Photo credit: Photo WVC 1998-12 Fraternisation 10 copy

Bois de la Fraternisation – Arbolle – Burkina Faso

Remarkable reforestation in Burkina Faso

by Willem Van Cotthem (Ghent University – Belgium)

In 1988, I was invited by the Dutch Committee Maastricht-Niou to carry out a reforestation project with my team of the University of Ghent (Belgium) in the village of Niou (Kourweogo Province, Burkina Faso). I will describe the success of that project later. Today, attention is paid to a similar reforestation project, set up in 1988 together with the Canadian Cooperation in Arbolle (Passoré Province, Burkina Faso).

It was decided to plant seedlings of a number of tree species with different dosages of TerraCottem soil conditioner (TC) on a clayey soil, completely barren in 1988 due to heavy deforestation by the local villagers during the preceeding years.

Start project
Hard clayey field completely denuded, due to firewood collection

First, plant pits were created and the excavated soil was mixed with different dosages of TC to study the optimal dosage under these local conditions. Some plant pits functioned as control plots (no TC was added to the local soil).

1988-07 Participation of local people in plant pit preparation
1988-07 Participation of local people in plant pit preparation

At the start of the project in July 1988, the young saplings were 40-50 cm high on average. Thanks to some good rains during the rainy season (June-October), the hydrogels of the TC soil conditioner could stock a large quantity of water and they delivered this water gradually to the growing young trees during the 8 months long dry season. Thereby, the saplings continued their growth without any need for irrigation.

In December 1988, six months after planting, the growth of the individual trees was measured to compare growth differences due to a difference in TC-dosage.

Measuring growth
1988-12 Measuring growth of individual trees

Very soon, it became quite clear that TC had an interesting positive effect on tree growth. A dosage of 100 g of TC per plant pit showed to be close to optimal in these conditions. Due to our activities on the field, the soil was scarified by trampling and seeds of grasses and other weeds germinated and developed into a sparse vegetation cover.

Young acacias
1988-12 Young trees already show differences in outgrowth

Acacia nilotica saplings developed remarkably well, in particular with the optimal dosage of 100 g TC per plant pit.

Acacia nilotica
Acacia nilotica saplings continued to grow in the dry season without any irrigation

In April 1989, we returned to the project to carry out new measurements. What a splendid view it was ! Almost all trees, except the control ones (without TC in the soil), were still brightly green with developing young leaves, a very exceptional situation during the dry season. Some saplings had disappeared, not because of the drought, but destroyed by locusts and termites.

tree growth
1989-04 Green saplings in the dry season

In July 1990, two years after the start of the project, the original barren field was already transformed into a green area. Young trees were developing, accordingly to the dosage of TC in the plant pit. Another interesting aspect was the development of different species of weeds around the individual trees. Indeed, seeds of these weeds were blown in by the wind and those falling on the plant pit surface found relatively humid conditions in which they could germinate and grow (see green disks around the trees).

Young wood
1990-07 Two years after plantation, the young trees were developing splendidly without any supplementary irrigation or fertilization

Some of the Acacia nilotica trees already had exceptional dimensions. It was almost unbelievable that these trees had grown to a height of more than 2 meters without any additional treatment. The only thing we did, was to plant the seedlings in July 1988 with a certain dosage of TC and let the rain make the TC functioning as a reservoir of water and nutrients. Such a growth was never seen before in these circumstances.

Acacia nilotica
1990-07 I was so happy seeing these fantastic two years old trees

The general aspect of the plantation was changing gradually. Not only the young trees were continuously growing all year long, but the originally barren soil became slowly covered with grasses and other weeds. This “nature restoration” was an important secondary effect of the soil conditioning with TC.

Acacias growing
1990-07 Quickly changing general outlook of the plantation

In July 1994, six years after the start of the project, a splendid young wood was formed. Tree canopies were closing and the vegetation cover on the surface was also closing more and more. Of course, the flowering plants started to attract numerous animal species : insects, birds, mice, squirrels etc. Biodiversity enhanced significantly.

Wood 01
1994-07 Splendid young wood in 6 years time

In 1998, 10 years after plantation, nothing can be seen anymore of the original barren area : a remarkable success was booked with this reforestation project. Trees were already several meters high and the vegetation on the surface became very dense.

Wood 10 years
1998-12 Remarkable success of the reforestation project

It is nice to know that since 1998 the same successes were booked with TC-reforestation projects in many other countries.

Originally published at:


African elephants and the environment

Photo credit: Nature World News

African elephants are significantly reducing Kruger National Park’s tree density. (Photo : Flickr: alecdphotography)

Elephants Are Knocking Down Too Many Trees In Kruger National Park, Researchers Say

By Samantha Mathewson

African elephants are knocking down trees left and right in Kruger National Park, the largest protected area in South Africa, and a new study revealed that tree-fall rates in the park are all about elephant density there, which is growing. These large animals are the leading cause behind the area’s changing ecology and shifting landscapes, because elephants routinely eat plants, tree bark, and other parts of trees.

“National parks and nature preserves will serve as biodiversity arks as we move into the future,” Greg Asner, of Carnegie’s Institution for Science, said in a news release. “But to manage them properly, conservationists will need to maintain the functionality of the ecosystem as a whole, which will require an understanding of system-wide responses to changing animal populations.”

Read the full article: Nature World News 



The political support that agroecology deserves and needs

Photo credit: Foodtank

Forms of agroecological transformation are already happening. But more must be done to bring examples to light, and to garner the political support that agroecology deserves and needs.
Blend Images – Peathegee Inc


Agroecology is Working – But We Need Examples to Inspire Others

by Olivier De Schutter and Steve Gliessman

Using the wrong measure of success is certain to lead to the wrong solutions being adopted. In the economy at large, the narrow pursuit of GDP growth remains the primary tool used by policymakers to assess progress. This has motivated economic strategies that have delivered short-term GDP boosts, but in ways that have harmed the environment and disadvantaged many groups in society.

Food systems are no different. If the measures of progress are too narrow or too focused on the short term, the long-term outlook will suffer. In food systems, success is often reduced to increased yields, net outputs and net calorie availability on a global level. More is better and quantity trumps quality.

This allows many crucial factors to fall through the cracks. How resilient are yields in the face of environmental shocks and disease outbreaks? How much do they vary from year to year? Where and to whom is food made available, and with what nutrient content? How well do these systems preserve the natural resource base for the future? How much employment do they generate, and under what conditions? Do consumers know where their food comes from and how it was grown?

Though some proposals have been made to address this gap, there is no consensus yet on the metrics that can capture these factors comprehensively. But we do have emerging examples of food and agriculture systems that are capable of sustaining, stabilizing and improving yields, preserving the environment, providing decent employment and secure livelihoods, and delivering diverse, nutrient-rich foods – in the places where they are needed most.

Agroecology is an approach that seeks to address all these questions together by re-integrating modern agriculture with the ecosystems it relies on. Agroecology replaces external chemical inputs with alternative approaches that mimic natural processes and enhance beneficial biological interactions and synergies on the farm. For example, trees are reintroduced into farming landscape to provide shade for crops, sequester carbon, and provide habitat for beneficial organisms, while rice and fish in integrated systems regulate the conditions for each other to flourish.

Read the full article: Foodtank

Climate change, CO2 and mangroves

Photo credit: Nature World News

Protected areas in Indonesia have reduced mangrove habitat loss and carbon dioxide emissions in amounts equivalent to “taking 344,000 vehicles off the road each year,” according to a scientist in a recent Duke study. (Photo : Wikimedia Commons )


Carbon Dioxide and Mangroves: Equivalent to Removing Cars From Road

By Samantha Mathewson

Mangrove conservation efforts not only prevent habitat loss, but also help regulate carbon dioxide emissions. According to researchers from Duke University, protected areas in Indonesia have maintained 35,594 acres of mangrove habitats and prevented the release into the atmosphere of about 13 million metric tons of carbon dioxide that the mangrove roots help store.

“This is not a small number,” Daniela Miteva, a postdoctoral researcher at The Nature Conservancy and a Duke University alumna, said in a news release. “Protected areas have reduced the rate of mangrove loss by about 28 percent in Indonesia, which has the world’s largest area of mangroves.”

The researchers analyzed the success of protected areas from 2000 to 2010. Their findings were recently published in the journal Ecological Economics.

Read the full article: Nature World News

The CASCADE Project


Message of DesertNet International,


Please find attached the August newsletter of the CASCADE project. More details about the Project can be found on the website and information system

Reporting on our recent

Plenary meeting in Chania, Crete

Knowledge needed to understand and predict thresholds for catastrophic shifts in dryland ecosystems of Europe is still limited. The challenge is to improve the understanding of the underlying processes in soil-water-plant systems, as well as of socio-economic drivers and land use management. We are establishing what might move dryland ecosystems towards thresholds, to be able to define threshold values for tipping points and to find ways to prevent such shifts from occurring.

When tipping points are likely to be approached, urgent action is needed to avoid catastrophic shifts in the dryland ecosystem. We aim to create decision-making tools to find suitable management options that help prevent shifts and promote sustainable land management. We hope that these tools, along with predictions for tipping points, can be used by policymakers and land users for more sustainable management of drylands worldwide.

In the CASCADE Project, researchers are carrying out experiments in study sites in parts of dryland Portugal, Spain, Italy, Crete and Cyprus to find a better understanding of discontinuous shifts, or tipping points, in ecosystems.


Staying alive in the high and dry

Photo credit: Science Daily

Field experiments were conducted in a remote area near Utah’s Bear Lake where the ecosystem’s productivity is limited by both water and nitrogen availability.
Credit: Zoe Cardon

Sagebrush carrying out hydraulic lift enhances surface soil nitrogen cycling and nitrogen uptake into inflorescences

by Z. G. Cardon, J. M. Stark, P. M. Herron, J. A. Rasmussen..

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2013; – DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1311314110

The vast sagebrush landscapes of the western United States are one of the largest ecosystems in North America. Long, cold winters and hot, dry summers characterize these cold desert ecosystems and create bone-dry soils during seasonal droughts. New research published this week from MBL (Marine Biological Laboratory) senior scientist Zoe Cardon, John Stark (Utah State University), and their two former students, sheds light on how desert plants gain nutrients they desperately need — even in the driest circumstances.

See the text: Science Daily

When heat waves coincide with drought


Simulated heat waves affected alpine grassland only in combination with drought

by Hans J. De BoeckSeraina Bassin, Maya Verlinden, Michaela Zeiter and Erika Hiltbrunner (2015)

in New Phytologist

Early View (Online Version of Record published before inclusion in an issue)


  • The Alpine region is warming fast, and concurrently, the frequency and intensity of climate extremes are increasing. It is currently unclear whether alpine ecosystems are sensitive or resistant to such extremes.
  • We subjected Swiss alpine grassland communities to heat waves with varying intensity by transplanting monoliths to four different elevations (2440–660 m above sea level) for 17 d. Half of these were regularly irrigated while the other half were deprived of irrigation to additionally induce a drought at each site.
  • Heat waves had no significant impacts on fluorescence (Fv/Fm, a stress indicator), senescence and aboveground productivity if irrigation was provided. However, when heat waves coincided with drought, the plants showed clear signs of stress, resulting in vegetation browning and reduced phytomass production. This likely resulted from direct drought effects, but also, as measurements of stomatal conductance and canopy temperatures suggest, from increased high-temperature stress as water scarcity decreased heat mitigation through transpiration.
  • The immediate responses to heat waves (with or without droughts) recorded in these alpine grasslands were similar to those observed in the more extensively studied grasslands from temperate climates. Responses following climate extremes may differ in alpine environments, however, because the short growing season likely constrains recovery.

Deforestation in Brazil: Coordination among different groups is inconsistent.

Photo credit: Google

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Deforestation in the Amazon Aggravates Brazil’s Energy Crisis | EcoDaily

REDD+ in Brazil: Coordination needed. Now


Farming and ranching remain the main drivers of deforestation in Brazil, a new study from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) has found.

But any new government policy to combat the problem may be undermined by lack of coordination and communication, says one of the study’s authors, Monica Di Gregorio, a senior CIFOR associate.

Sharing information and coordinating efforts are crucial for implementing policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), the study claims.

So, to map information-sharing and collaboration networks in Brazil, researchers used questionnaires and in-depth interviews with 56 representatives of government agencies, non-government organizations (NGOs), civil society organizations, research institutions private-sector organizations and donors.

The study found that coordination among those groups is inconsistent.

Read the full article: Forests News


Southerly plants pushed north after wildfires

Photo credit: Nature World News

Forests that have been thinned before forest fires in California are able to maintain more forest biodiversity of plants. (Photo : Wikipedia Commons)

Wildfires and Climate Change: Southerly Plants Pushed North

By Catherine Arnold

The southwest is moving northward, pushed there by California wildfires, as researchers from University of California, Davis recently reported in the Journal of Ecology.

That is, as fires burn forest understories, the plants that grow in their place are increasingly those normally found in more southern parts of the West. “The plants we’re finding underneath our forests are becoming more like those seen in Mexico and Southern California,” said lead author Jens Stevens, a postdoctoral scholar with UC Davis, in a release. “Under climate change, we’re seeing species from drier, warmer areas increasingly taking over. It’s a long process, but forest disturbance, be it thinning or wildfire, has the potential to hasten those shifts.”

This can be a startling change: A forest floor normally strewn with lupine and violets, typical of Northern California and Canada–may now be manzanita and monkey flower, or other foliage normally found to the south, a release noted.

Read the full story: Nature World News

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