Geography Compass

Ecohydrology with a twist: the way to combat desertification?

by Caitlin Douglas

Desertification has recently been described as the greatest threat to the planet. Does this claim surprise you? Drylands cover at least a third of the global land mass and are home to about a third of the Earth’s populations.

Wilcox et al. (2011), discuss human-ecological interactions in drylands. They name four major causes to environmental change in the semiarid and dry-subhumid climates: 1) agricultural conversion, 2) afforestation, 3) woody plant encroachment, 4) desertification.  All of these activities alter the biophysical processes of these environments. This is why ecohydrology is a valid approach to the study of drylands. Ecohydrology seeks to understand the linkages and feedbacks between the water cycle and biotic assemblages, and such an approach is particularly useful in dryland environments where water is a limiting factor for biota.

The authors argue that a social science dimension should be added to an ecohydrological study of drylands. Although strong feedbacks exist between climate, ecosystem functioning and water availability in drylands their interactions are not well understood. Human activities alter these linkages, and because of their direct affect, social science and social policy research is required alongside biophysical research. Ecohydrology combined with social research may turn out to be a strong weapon in combating desertification

Read the journal article. Wilcox, B., Sorice, M, Young, M. 2011. Dryland Ecohydrology in the Anthropocene: Taking Stock of Human–Ecological Interactions. Geography Compass. 5/3: 112-127.

Look at the photosUN Convention to Combat Desertification photo contest winners

Read the news article. Desertification is greatest threat to planet, warns expert. The Guardian, 16 December 2010.

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