Land degradation and environmental change in dryland ecosystems: irreversibility and long range effects

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 4:05 PM
Paolo D'Odorico, Univ Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, United States, Abinash Bhattachan, University of Virginia Main Campus, Charlottesville, VA, United States, Kailiang Yu, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, United States and Greg S Okin, University of California Los Angeles, Department of Geography, Los Angeles, CA, United States
Dryland ecosystems are prone to changes in soil properties, vegetation or climate, which may results in a persistent loss of ecosystem services with important implications for sustainable livelihoods and societal stress. These changes in ecosystem function and services typically result from shifts in climate or land use and are enhanced by positive feedbacks with the biota and human societies. Here we show the important role of ecohydrological feedbacks in determining pathways of land degradation and highlight their long range environmental and societal impacts. Crucial to several desertification feedbacks is plants’ sensitivity to limited water availability and the ability of vegetation to modify its physical environment. We investigate how by reducing soil susceptibility to wind erosion and dust emissions plants can improve the hydrological conditions that are crucial to their survival. Using field data and model simulations we see how enhanced aeolian activity may sustain a desertification feedback that has often been overlooked.