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Title: Desertification, land use, and the transformation of global drylands

item Bestelmeyer, Brandon
item OKIN, GREG - University Of California
item DUNIWAY, MICHAEL - Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS, USDA)
item ARCHER, STEVE - University Of Arizona
item SAYER, NATHAN - University Of California
item WILLIAMSON, JEB - New Mexico State University
item Herrick, Jeffrey - Jeff

Submitted to: Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/20/2014
Publication Date: 2/2/2015
Publication URL:
Citation: Bestelmeyer, B.T., Okin, G., Duniway, M., Archer, S., Sayer, N., Williamson, J., Herrick, J.E. 2015. Desertification, land use, and the transformation of global drylands. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 13:28-36.

Interpretive Summary: Desertification, or land degradation in drylands, is an important problem worldwide but is notoriously ambiguous in terms of specific processes, conditions, and solutions. We propose that detailed models of vegetation and soil change (state change) be combined with an understanding of land use change as a broad, process-oriented way of thinking about desertification, called a state change-land use change framework. Some state changes are rapidly reversible whereas others are effectively permanent, so managers should distinguish these conditions to make wise restoration investments. Land use changes among rangeland, cropland, and urban uses can directly or indirectly cause state change, so land use planning with regard to potential state change is also needed. Region specific production, mapping, and information delivery about state change-land use change interactions may be our best hope for mitigating desertification.

Technical Abstract: Desertification is an escalating concern in global drylands, yet assessments to guide management and policy responses are limited by ambiguity concerning what this term means and what processes are involved. In order to provide greater clarity, we propose that desertification assessments be placed within a state change-land use change (SC-LUC) framework. SC-LUC views desertification as state change occurring within the context of particular land uses (such as rangeland or cropland) and interacting with land use change. State changes amenable to reversal are distinguished from regime shifts, which are state changes involving persistent alterations of vegetation and/or soil properties (within rangelands) or soil properties that affect production (within croplands). Land use change pressures from rangeland to other uses may be low, fluctuating, or high and they may influence and be influenced by state change. We discuss how the SC-LUC perspective can guide more effective assessments of and responses to desertification.