Dryland degradation as a social-ecological regime shift: A Sub-Saharan case study

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Kristi Maciejewski

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Drylands globally support over two billion people as major providers of critical ecosystem goods and services. However, drylands also represent places where the human population is growing most rapidly, biological productivity is least, and poverty highest. These ecosystems are therefore particularly fragile and vulnerable to shifting into a degraded state. This change in the structure and function of an ecosystem can be seen as a regime shift, impacting on the provisioning of vital ecosystem services as well as human wellbeing. In this study we identified the main drivers and impacts to identify leverage points to intervene in order to increase the resilience. We extracted information from the Regime Shifts Database and used Sub-Saharan Africa as a case study to identify the susceptibility of this world region to dryland degradation. Drivers related to harvesting natural resources and their consumption, vegetation conversion, and habitat fragmentation were the most common causes of regime shifts resulting in dryland degradation. Primary agricultural production and biodiversity are the most common cluster of ecosystem services affected along with provisioning ecosystem services such livestock and wild animal and plant products. This affects human wellbeing in terms of nutrition, livelihood, and economic activities. Maintaining the structure and function of the dryland system and increasing the resilience of this ecosystem relies on preemptive restoration and a better understanding of the social and ecological drivers. Using a systems-thinking approach will help us to understand these underlying patterns and prevent further dryland degradation.

Resource Type:
Audio/Video, Conference Presentation, SER2019

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Society for Ecological Restoration