Submitted to: Journal of Applied Ecology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/12/2013
Publication Date: 5/21/2013
Publication URL: http://handle.nal.usda.gov/10113/57963
Citation: James, J.J., Sheley, R.L., Erickson, T., Rollins, K.S., Taylor, M.H., Dixon, K.W. 2013. A systems approach to restoring degraded drylands. Journal of Applied Ecology. 50:730-739. Interpretive Summary: Despite best efforts and excellent science, our ability to restore rangelands is usually expensive and often unsuccessful. Our ability to restore degraded ecosystems is central to regaining the essential goods and services provided by these ecosystems. A systems approach is essentially a framework to help solve complex and large scale management problems and provide the ability to make forecasts. We developed and applied a quantitative systems model as a mechanism to facilitate, integrate and advance research on native plants on sage steppe systems. By combining conceptual models with systems modeling approaches, these models that help overcome restoration limitations.
Technical Abstract: Drylands support over 2 billion people and are major providers of critical ecosystem goods and services across the globe. Drylands, however, are one of the most susceptible biomes to degradation. International programs widely recognize dryland restoration as key to combating global dryland degradation and ensuring future global sustainability and stability. Despite the widely recognized need for dryland restoration and the large amounts of resources allocated to these activities, rates of restoration success remain overwhelmingly low. Despite decades of excellent research, our advances in understanding the ecology of dryland systems have not yielded proportional advances in our ability to restore these systems. To accelerate measurable advances in our ability to restore dryland systems, we argue for advancing the field of restoration ecology beyond conceptual frameworks of ecosystem dynamics and towards quantitative, mechanistic and predictive systems models that capture the probabilistic nature of how ecosystems respond to management. To do this, we first provide a brief overview of leading conceptual frameworks of dryland restoration. We then detail the value of using quantitative systems approaches to accelerate our ability to make practical improvements in our restoration outcomes. From this, we outline how systems approaches are instrumental in our ability to evaluate economic efficiency of restoration efforts. Lastly, using a case study from the western United States, we show how a systems approach can be integrated with and used to advance current conceptual frameworks of dryland restoration. We argue that systems models for restoration do not replace valuable conceptual or phenomenological models but, instead, complement and extend these modeling approaches by enhancing our ability to solve restoration problems and forecast outcomes under changing conditions. Such forecasting is ultimately necessary to monetize restoration benefits and cost and maximize impact of limited restoration dollars.