Special Issue "Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies"

A special issue of Land (ISSN 2073-445X).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 March 2018)

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Dr. Troy Sternberg

School of Geography, University of Oxford, Oxford, OX1 3QY, UK
Website | E-Mail
Phone: 44(0)1865 285070
Interests: deserts environments; natural hazards; risk; climate; water; degradation
Guest Editor
Dr. Ariell Ahearn

School of Geography, University of Oxford, Oxford, OX1 3QY, UK
Website | E-Mail
Phone: 44(0)1865 285070
Interests: pastoralism; rural systems in drylands; socio-economic change; human land use; governance

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Understanding deserts and drylands is essential as arid landscapes cover >40% of the Earth and are home to two billion people. Today's problematic environment–human interaction needs contemporary knowledge to address dryland complexity. Physical dimensions in arid zones—land systems, climate and hazards, ecology—are linked with social processes that directly impact drylands, such as land management, livelihoods, and development. Challenges require integrated research that identifies systemic drivers across global arid regions. Measurement and monitoring, field investigation, remote sensing, and data analysis are effective tools to investigate natural dynamics. Equally, inquiry into how policy and practice affect landscape sustainability is key to mitigating detrimental activity in deserts. Exploring relations between socio-economic forces and degradation, agro-pastoral rangeland use, drought and disaster and resource extraction reflect land interactions. Contemporary themes of food security, conflict and conservation are interlinked in arid environments.

This Special Issue unifies desert science, arid environments, and dryland development. We seek papers that identify land dynamics, address system risks and delineate human functions through original research in arid zones. Mixed methodologies that reflect the vital links between social and environmental science in global deserts is welcome. Work that engages with today's topical themes and presents novel analyses is particularly encouraged.

Dr. Troy Sternberg
Dr. Ariell Ahearn
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 550 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Published Papers (22 papers)

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Open AccessArticle The Potential for Enhanced Water Decoupling in the Jordan Basin through Regional Agricultural Best Practice
Received: 15 March 2018 / Revised: 7 May 2018 / Accepted: 9 May 2018 / Published: 13 May 2018
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Abstract
This paper examines the differences in agricultural water application per crop ton output in semi-arid jurisdictions in the Jordan Basin, focusing on Israel and Jordan, with some analysis relevant to Palestine. In order to understand differences in water application, it delivers a nationally
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This paper examines the differences in agricultural water application per crop ton output in semi-arid jurisdictions in the Jordan Basin, focusing on Israel and Jordan, with some analysis relevant to Palestine. In order to understand differences in water application, it delivers a nationally averaged assessment of applied water application for 14 key regional crops, with most cases suggesting Israeli best practice in water application per unit crop. The paper draws on a secondary assessment of agricultural water intensity and primary data from farmer interviews to demonstrate differences in applied water productivity and agricultural context. The analysis suggests a conservative estimate that a difference of 168 Million Cubic Meters (MCM)/yr (33% of agriculture and 18% of national total) exists in terms of water application for a given crop production in Jordan when compared with Israel. The paper then proposes further work required to establish how differences in water application might translate into differences in agricultural water productivity, and thereby potential water savings that might enable growth of production within current agricultural allocations, allowing new future resources to be allocated to other economic and social needs. The paper also delivers a preliminary analysis of the political and institutional landscape for implementation, assessing the challenges of institutional silos and overlap that some policy stakeholders see as hindering cross-sectoral progress. The paper concludes by examining the limitations of the analysis, and it proposes future work to deepen the robustness of results and examines some of the challenges facing improved agricultural water productivity and changing farm behaviour in the region. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Open AccessArticle Making Sense of Past, Present and Future. Images of Modern and Past Pastoralism among Nyangatom Herders in South Omo, Ethiopia
Received: 10 March 2018 / Revised: 7 April 2018 / Accepted: 13 April 2018 / Published: 19 April 2018
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Abstract
This article asks how Nyangatom pastoralists currently make sense of the past, present and future of their pastoralist livelihood. Nyangatom pastoralists, like all agro-pastoralist groups in southern Ethiopia, are faced with enormous structural changes in their immediate surroundings, primarily due to large-scale industrial
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This article asks how Nyangatom pastoralists currently make sense of the past, present and future of their pastoralist livelihood. Nyangatom pastoralists, like all agro-pastoralist groups in southern Ethiopia, are faced with enormous structural changes in their immediate surroundings, primarily due to large-scale industrial agriculture and a government policy encouraging them to be sedentary. While the impacts have been discussed elsewhere, thus far little focus has been placed on what images of the past, present and future these changes create among the Nyangatom. This article pays attention to these changes by highlighting the results of a larger qualitative study. It becomes evident that discourses of modernity and culture are translated into the everyday lives of Nyangatom herders. While the past is constructed as a cultural/traditional time by the older generation, an image of modernity shapes the present life of younger generations. The administration plays a contradictory role in transmitting modernity ideals. The future of the Nyangatom is envisioned as a modern pastoralism, yet there is general pessimism with regards to pastoralism persisting. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
Open AccessArticle Dirty Water, Muddied Politics: Hybridisation of Local and National Opposition to Kumtor Mine, Kyrgyzstan
Received: 6 March 2018 / Revised: 30 March 2018 / Accepted: 31 March 2018 / Published: 3 April 2018
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Abstract
From a Mongolian ‘super mine’ to China’s One Belt One Road, rapid infrastructural development is reforging Central Asia as an economic pivot of the future. Such development offers enticing economic benefits, but threatens fragile environments and local livelihoods. Due to the weakness of
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From a Mongolian ‘super mine’ to China’s One Belt One Road, rapid infrastructural development is reforging Central Asia as an economic pivot of the future. Such development offers enticing economic benefits, but threatens fragile environments and local livelihoods. Due to the weakness of the state, the emphasis will be on citizens to hold developers accountable to their social and environmental pledges. Reports of political elites influencing the demands of popular protests call into question the ability of citizens to fulfil this function. This paper examines protest authenticity in Kyrgyzstan, focusing on an environmental social movement against Kumtor gold mine. We trace the emergence and evolution of the social movement, identifying the flexible discursive and scalar strategies it uses to achieve emphasis of the local level and relevance on the national scale. The discussion focuses on how national political saliency may incentivise elite involvement with social movements. This involvement can mask the local demands of the social movement, fixing the environmental problem as a national issue. It is crucial to understand the scalar dynamics of elite-protest interaction if Central Asian civil society is to hold future infrastructural developments to account. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Open AccessArticle Satellite Monitoring of Vegetation Response to Precipitation and Dust Storm Outbreaks in Gobi Desert Regions
Received: 12 December 2017 / Revised: 25 January 2018 / Accepted: 27 January 2018 / Published: 1 February 2018
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Abstract
Recently, droughts have become widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, including in Mongolia. The ground surface condition, particularly vegetation coverage, affects the occurrence of dust storms. The main sources of dust storms in the Asian region are the Taklimakan and Mongolian Gobi desert regions.
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Recently, droughts have become widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, including in Mongolia. The ground surface condition, particularly vegetation coverage, affects the occurrence of dust storms. The main sources of dust storms in the Asian region are the Taklimakan and Mongolian Gobi desert regions. In these regions, precipitation is one of the most important factors for growth of plants especially in arid and semi-arid land. The purpose of this study is to clarify the relationship between precipitation and vegetation cover dynamics over 29 years in the Gobi region. We compared the patterns between precipitation and Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) for a period of 29 years. The precipitation and vegetation datasets were examined to investigate the trends during 1985–2013. Cross correlation analysis between the precipitation and the NDVI anomalies was performed. Data analysis showed that the variations of NDVI anomalies in the east region correspond well with the precipitation anomalies during this period. However, in the southwest region of the Gobi region, the NDVI had decreased regardless of the precipitation amount, especially since 2010. This result showed that vegetation in this region was more degraded than in the other areas. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Open AccessArticle Plantation Development in the Turkana Basin: The Making of a New Desert?
Received: 30 November 2017 / Revised: 18 January 2018 / Accepted: 20 January 2018 / Published: 25 January 2018
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Abstract
Since the early 20th century, “desert reclamation” has been synonymous with large-scale waterworks and irrigation. These techniques have made it possible to produce abundant crops in arid or semi-arid environments. The costs have often been externalized, with increased environmental productivity in the new
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Since the early 20th century, “desert reclamation” has been synonymous with large-scale waterworks and irrigation. These techniques have made it possible to produce abundant crops in arid or semi-arid environments. The costs have often been externalized, with increased environmental productivity in the new croplands counterbalanced by increased aridity elsewhere. In this paper I consider whose interests are served by such projects, and what kinds of social constructions of the natural and human environment make them possible. I focus on the Turkana basin, a watershed spanning the Ethiopian and Kenyan borders, where large dams and irrigation projects are currently being established with the goal of producing cash crops and hydro-electricity. In the narratives of the projects’ proponents, the schemes are represented as part of a tradition of development stretching back to the American West. In the discourse of critics, the Aral Sea of Central Asia is frequently invoked. Considering Turkana in relation to these cases sheds light on the political and ecological gambits involved in desert reclamation, and helps us to understand the costs and benefits of such projects. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle Groundwater Irrigation Management and the Existing Challenges from the Farmers’ Perspective in Central Iran
Received: 24 October 2017 / Revised: 7 January 2018 / Accepted: 17 January 2018 / Published: 23 January 2018
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Abstract
The sustainable management of natural resources, and particularly groundwater, presents a major challenge in arid regions to ensure security of water supply and support agricultural production. In many cases, the role of smallholder farmers is often neglected when managing irrigated water and land
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The sustainable management of natural resources, and particularly groundwater, presents a major challenge in arid regions to ensure security of water supply and support agricultural production. In many cases, the role of smallholder farmers is often neglected when managing irrigated water and land processes. However, management decisions have a major impact on farmers’ livelihoods, and it is essential: first, to recognise the crucial role of regional and local social, political and economic systems; and second, to integrate farmers’ perspectives in the governance and management of local groundwater practices. This is particularly important as the ways in which arid region farmers use land and water have wider implications for land degradation and salinization. This paper uses a community-based approach to identify and examine the social, economic and cultural dimensions to groundwater irrigation systems from the perspective of local farmers in central Iran. The paper utilises interviews with local farmers and water agencies in Iran to reflect on their respective roles within the irrigation system and in developing management plans for the sustainable use of groundwater. Through social research, we investigate the reasons why farmers might reject government irrigation management schemes and outline how local problems with land degradation and salinization and reduced water availability have arisen as a result of changing management policies. In conclusion, we identify future challenges and consider appropriate future management strategies. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Open AccessArticle Assessing Riparian Vegetation Condition and Function in Disturbed Sites of the Arid Northwestern Mexico
Received: 27 November 2017 / Revised: 9 January 2018 / Accepted: 18 January 2018 / Published: 22 January 2018
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Abstract
Transformation or modification of vegetation distribution and structure in arid riparian ecosystems can lead to the loss of ecological function. Mexico has 101,500,000 ha of arid lands, however there is a general lack of information regarding how arid riparian ecosystems are being modified.
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Transformation or modification of vegetation distribution and structure in arid riparian ecosystems can lead to the loss of ecological function. Mexico has 101,500,000 ha of arid lands, however there is a general lack of information regarding how arid riparian ecosystems are being modified. To assess these modifications, we use eight sites in the San Miguel River (central Sonora) to analyze (1) riparian vegetation composition, structure and distribution using field sampling and remote sensing data from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV); (2) productivity (proxies), using vegetation indices derived from satellite data; and (3) variability posed by riparian vegetation and vegetation adjacent to riparian habitats. The development of a simple yet informative Anthropogenic-disturbance Index (ADI) allowed us to classify and describe each study site. We found sharp differences in vegetation composition and structure between sites due to the absence/presence of obligate-riparian species. We also report significant difference between EVI (Enhanced Vegetation Index) values for the dry season among vegetation types that develop near the edges of the river but differ in composition, suggesting that land cover changes form obligate-riparian to facultative-riparian species can lead to a loss in potential productivity. Finally, our tests suggest that sites with higher disturbance present lower photosynthetic activity. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Open AccessArticle Effect of Land Use Change on Soil Carbon Storage over the Last 40 Years in the Shi Yang River Basin, China
Received: 2 December 2017 / Revised: 13 January 2018 / Accepted: 16 January 2018 / Published: 18 January 2018
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Abstract
Accounting for one quarter of China’s land area, the endorheic Shiyang River basin is a vast semi-arid to arid region in China’s northwest. Exploring the impact of changes in land use on this arid area’s carbon budget under global warming is a key
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Accounting for one quarter of China’s land area, the endorheic Shiyang River basin is a vast semi-arid to arid region in China’s northwest. Exploring the impact of changes in land use on this arid area’s carbon budget under global warming is a key component to global climate change research. Variation in the region’s soil carbon storage due to land use changes occurring between 1973 and 2012 was estimated. The results show that land use change has a significant impact on the soil carbon budget, with soil carbon storage having decreased by 3.89 Tg between 1973 and 2012. Grassland stored the greatest amount of soil carbon (114.34 Mg ha−1), whereas considerably lower carbon storage occurred in woodland (58.53 Mg ha−1), cropland (26.75 Mg ha−1) and unused land (13.47 Mg ha−1). Grasslands transformed into cropland, and woodlands degraded into grassland have substantially reduced soil carbon storage, suggesting that measures should be adopted to reverse this trend to improve soil productivity. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Open AccessFeature PaperArticle The Effects of Grazing Systems on Plant Communities in Steppe Lands—A Case Study from Mongolia’s Pastoralists and Inner Mongolian Settlement Areas
Received: 6 November 2017 / Revised: 26 December 2017 / Accepted: 17 January 2018 / Published: 18 January 2018
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Abstract
This study examines the effects of different grazing systems in two neighboring regions with similar biotic and abiotic factors, Nalan Soum in Mongolia and Naren Soum in Inner Mongolia, China. We employed the quadrat sampling method and remote sensing to set three perpendicular
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This study examines the effects of different grazing systems in two neighboring regions with similar biotic and abiotic factors, Nalan Soum in Mongolia and Naren Soum in Inner Mongolia, China. We employed the quadrat sampling method and remote sensing to set three perpendicular lines that dissect the boundary between the two countries, and seven lines parallel to the boundary to form a rectangular shape as a means to compare plant community response to different grazing systems under natural conditions. NDVI data is included in discussing the causes of Mongolian grassland degradation. The results of quadrat sampling and NDVI analysis show that rotational grazing has greater values for the quadrat’s average height, total coverage, total individual density, and total aboveground biomass (p < 0.05), but has lower species richness than continuous grazing (p > 0.05). The NVDI values of rotational grazing in 1989, 2005, 2011, and 2016 were higher those of continuous grazing, and significant difference was shown in 2011 and 2016; the NDVI value of continuous grazing in 1993 was higher than that of rotational grazing, but did not show a significant difference. This indicates that different grazing approaches affect steppe ecological systems in different ways, despite their similar biotic and abiotic factors, as well as grazing intensity. Nonetheless, we find rotational grazing to be better for ecosystem vitality than continuous grazing, to some degree. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Open AccessFeature PaperArticle Berenty Reserve—A Gallery Forest in Decline in Dry Southern Madagascar—Towards Forest Restoration
Received: 22 October 2017 / Revised: 31 December 2017 / Accepted: 8 January 2018 / Published: 15 January 2018
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Abstract
Berenty Reserve, a fully protected gallery forest beside the Mandrare River is renowned for its lemurs, but the continuous canopy of the main forest is shrinking, fragmenting and degrading. The aim of this study, before any restoration can be considered, is to investigate
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Berenty Reserve, a fully protected gallery forest beside the Mandrare River is renowned for its lemurs, but the continuous canopy of the main forest is shrinking, fragmenting and degrading. The aim of this study, before any restoration can be considered, is to investigate why canopy-cover is declining and define the forest’s vegetation status and composition. Our study includes analysis of tamarind age (the dominant species) and regeneration, forest extent, climate and soil. Measurement of trunk circumference and annual rings indicated a median age of 190 years, near the accepted maximum for tamarinds. There is no regeneration of tamarind seedlings under the canopy and an invasive vine, Cissus quadrangularis suffocates any regeneration on the forest margins. A vegetation survey, based on fifteen transects, broadly characterized three forest areas: continuous canopy near the river, transitional canopy with fewer tall trees, and degraded dryland; the survey also provided a list of the 18 most common tree species. Ring counts of flood-damaged roots combined with measurement to the riverbank show that erosion rates, up to 19.5 cm/year, are not an immediate threat to forest extent. The highly variable climate shows no trend and analysis of forest soil indicates compatibility with plant growth. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Open AccessArticle Monitoring and Analysing Land Use/Cover Changes in an Arid Region Based on Multi-Satellite Data: The Kashgar Region, Northwest China
Received: 3 November 2017 / Revised: 25 December 2017 / Accepted: 9 January 2018 / Published: 12 January 2018
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Abstract
In arid regions, oases ecosystems are fragile and sensitive to climate change, and water is the major limiting factor for environmental and socio-economic developments. Understanding the drivers of land use/cover change (LUCC) in arid regions is important for the development of management strategies
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In arid regions, oases ecosystems are fragile and sensitive to climate change, and water is the major limiting factor for environmental and socio-economic developments. Understanding the drivers of land use/cover change (LUCC) in arid regions is important for the development of management strategies to improve or prevent environmental deterioration and loss of natural resources. The Kashgar Region is the key research area in this study; it is a typical mountain-alluvial plain-oasis-desert ecosystem in an arid region, and is one of the largest oases in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China. In addition, the Kashgar Region is an important cotton and grain production area. This study’s main objectives are to quantify predominant LUCCs and identify their driving forces, based on the integration of multiple remote sensors and applications of environmental and socio-economic data. Results showed that LUCCs have been significant in the Kashgar Region during the last 42 years. Cultivated land and urban/built-up lands were the most changed land cover (LC), by 3.6% and 0.4% from 1972 to 10.2% and 3% in 2014, respectively. By contrast, water and forest areas declined. Grassland and snow-covered areas have fluctuated along with climate and human activities. Bare land was changed slightly from 1972 to 2014. According to the land use transfer matrix, cultivated land replaced grass- and forestland. Urban/built-up land mainly expanded over cultivated and bare land. LUCCs were triggered by the interplay of natural and social drivers. Increasing runoff, caused by regional climate changes in seasonal variation, and snow melt water, have provided water resources for LC changes. In the same way, population growth, changes in land tenure, and socio-economic development also induced LUCCs. However, expansion of cultivated land and urban/built-up land led to increased water consumption and stressed fragile water systems during on-going climate changes. Therefore, the selection of adaption strategies relating to climate change and oasis development is very important for sustainable development in the Kashgar Region. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Open AccessFeature PaperArticle Pastoralism and Land Tenure Transformation in Sub-Saharan Africa: Conflicting Policies and Priorities in Ngamiland, Botswana
Received: 2 November 2017 / Revised: 25 November 2017 / Accepted: 27 November 2017 / Published: 11 December 2017
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Abstract
In dryland Africa, access to land and water resources are central to pastoral livelihood activities. Policy intervention in these regions represents the outcome of concerted post-independence processes in which countries have committed to land tenure transformation as a policy objective. This was meant
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In dryland Africa, access to land and water resources are central to pastoral livelihood activities. Policy intervention in these regions represents the outcome of concerted post-independence processes in which countries have committed to land tenure transformation as a policy objective. This was meant to create private, liberal property rights to replace communal customary tenure systems which were considered to be a constraint to development. Despite these efforts, decades of scientific research indicate that countries are still struggling to meet environmental sustainability objectives. Land degradation where it existed has not been halted and traditional pastoral livelihoods have been disrupted. The overall evidence base for policymaking remains weak as deficiencies in data or information on which management decisions were based led to poor policy performance. In a bid to strengthen understanding in this area, this study has a dual aim: 1. Using a systematic review of the literature, we examine the impact of land tenure transformation in pastoral areas in sub-Saharan Africa; 2. We analyse user-perspectives on land tenure transformation and pastoralists’ rights in Ngamiland, Botswana, so as to draw out the salient issues that must be addressed in order to reconcile pastoral tenure conflicts and land management in sub-Saharan Africa. Results from meta-analysis and case study show that land tenure transformation policies across pastoral areas are subject to similar challenges and consequences. Protecting pastoral land rights requires deliberate policy interventions that recognise pastoralism as a productive and efficient use of resources. Policymakers need to overcome anti-pastoral prejudice and focus on Sustainable Land Management goals. This entails establishing negotiated and flexible tenure frameworks that strengthen pastoralists’ participation in decision-making arenas by working with pastoral communities on the basis of understanding their livelihood system. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Open AccessArticle Determining the Frequency of Dry Lake Bed Formation in Semi-Arid Mongolia From Satellite Data
Received: 25 October 2017 / Revised: 6 December 2017 / Accepted: 6 December 2017 / Published: 8 December 2017
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Abstract
In the Mongolian Plateau, the desert steppe, mountains, and dry lake bed surfaces may affect the process of dust storm emissions. Among these three surface types, dry lake beds are considered to contribute a substantial amount of global dust emissions and to be
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In the Mongolian Plateau, the desert steppe, mountains, and dry lake bed surfaces may affect the process of dust storm emissions. Among these three surface types, dry lake beds are considered to contribute a substantial amount of global dust emissions and to be responsible for “hot spots” of dust outbreaks. The land cover types in the study area were broadly divided into three types, namely desert steppe, mountains, and dry lake beds, by a classification based on Normalized Difference Water Index (NDWI) calculated from MODIS Terra satellite images, and Digital Elevation Model (DEM). This dry lake beds extracting method using remote sensing offers a new technique for identifying dust hot spots and potential untapped groundwater in the dry lands of the Gobi region. In the study area, frequencies of dry lake bed formation were calculated during the period of 2001 to 2014. The potential dry lake area corresponded well with the length of the river network based on hydrogeological characterization (R2 = 0.77, p < 0.001). We suggest that the threshold between dry lake bed areas and the formation of ephemeral lakes in semi-arid regions is eight days of total precipitation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Open AccessArticle Bequest of the Norseman—The Potential for Agricultural Intensification and Expansion in Southern Greenland under Climate Change
Received: 20 October 2017 / Revised: 1 December 2017 / Accepted: 4 December 2017 / Published: 7 December 2017
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Abstract
The increase of summer temperatures and a prolonged growing season increase the potential for agricultural land use for subarctic agriculture. Nevertheless, land use at borderline ecotones is influenced by more factors than temperature and the length of the growing season, for example soil
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The increase of summer temperatures and a prolonged growing season increase the potential for agricultural land use for subarctic agriculture. Nevertheless, land use at borderline ecotones is influenced by more factors than temperature and the length of the growing season, for example soil quality, as the increasing lengths of dry periods during vegetation season can diminish land use potential. Hence, this study focuses on the quality of the soil resource as possible limiting factor for land use intensification in southern Greenland. Physical and chemical soil properties of cultivated grasslands, reference sites and semi-natural birch and grassland sites were examined to develop a soil quality index and to identify the suitability of soils for a sustainable intensification and expansion of the agriculture. The study revealed that soils in the study area are generally characterized by a low effective cation exchange capacity (CECeff) (3.7 ± 5.0 meq 100 g−1), low pH CaCl2 (4.6 ± 0.4) and low clay and silt content (3.0 ± 1.0% and 38.2 ± 4.7%, respectively). Due to the high amount of coarse fraction (59.1 ± 5.8%) and the low amount of soil nutrients, an increasing threat of dry spells for soils and yield could be identified. Further, future land use intensification and expansion bears a high risk for concomitant effects, namely further soil acidification, nutrient leaching and soil degradation processes. However, results of the soil quality index also indicate that sites which were already used by the Norseman (980s–1450) show the best suitability for agricultural use. Thus, these areas offer a possibility to expand agricultural land use in southern Greenland. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Open AccessArticle Identifying Hot Spots of Critical Forage Supply in Dryland Nomadic Pastoralist Areas: A Case Study for the Afar Region, Ethiopia
Received: 26 October 2017 / Revised: 10 November 2017 / Accepted: 13 November 2017 / Published: 18 November 2017
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Abstract
This study develops a methodology to identify hot spots of critical forage supply in nomadic pastoralist areas, using the Afar Region, Ethiopia, as a special case. It addresses two main problems. First, it makes a spatially explicit assessment of fodder supply and demand
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This study develops a methodology to identify hot spots of critical forage supply in nomadic pastoralist areas, using the Afar Region, Ethiopia, as a special case. It addresses two main problems. First, it makes a spatially explicit assessment of fodder supply and demand extracted from a data poor environment. Fodder supply is assessed by combining rainfall-based production functions and rule-based assessment for prevailing land use. Fodder demand is based on a data consistency check of livestock statistics concerning herd size, composition and geographical distribution. Second, individual herd movements have to be evaluated jointly in concurrent migration patterns to assess local pressures on fodder resources. We, therefore, apply a transition model that relates stock levels to seasonal migration routings for all Afar sub-clans jointly so as to localize the hot spots where feed demand exceeds forage supply. Critical areas come to the fore, especially, near fringes of Highlands and in the southern part of the Afar. A sensitivity test shows that ‘Baseline’ scenario is close to the ‘Best’ but under ‘Worst’, the Afar region would fall into despair. We conclude that the model is a useful tool to inform policy makers on critical areas in the Afar region. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Open AccessArticle Land Cover Change in Northern Botswana: The Influence of Climate, Fire, and Elephants on Semi-Arid Savanna Woodlands
Received: 28 July 2017 / Revised: 18 October 2017 / Accepted: 20 October 2017 / Published: 25 October 2017
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Abstract
Complex couplings and feedback among climate, fire, and herbivory drive short- and long-term patterns of land cover change (LCC) in savanna ecosystems. However, understanding of spatial and temporal LCC patterns in these environments is limited, particularly for semi-arid regions transitional between arid and
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Complex couplings and feedback among climate, fire, and herbivory drive short- and long-term patterns of land cover change (LCC) in savanna ecosystems. However, understanding of spatial and temporal LCC patterns in these environments is limited, particularly for semi-arid regions transitional between arid and more mesic climates. Here, we use post-classification analysis of Landsat TM (1990), ETM+ (2003), and OLI (2013) satellite imagery to classify and assess net and gross LCC for the Chobe District, a 21,000 km2 area encompassing urban, peri-urban, rural, communally-managed (Chobe Enclave), and protected land (Chobe National Park, CNP, and six protected forest reserves). We then evaluate spatiotemporal patterns of LCC in relation to precipitation, fire detections (MCD14M, 2001–2013) from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), and dry season elephant (Loxodonta africana) aerial survey data (2003, 2006, 2012, 2013). Woodland cover declined over the study period by 1514 km2 (16.2% of initial class total), accompanied by expansion of shrubland (1305 km2, 15.7%) and grassland (265 km2, 20.3%). Net LCC differed importantly in protected areas, with higher woodland losses observed in forest reserves compared to the CNP. Loss of woodland was also higher in communally-managed land for the study period, despite gains from 2003–2013. Gross (class) changes were characterized by extensive exchange between woodland and shrubland during both time steps, and a large expansion of shrubland into grassland and bare ground from 2003–2013. MODIS active fire detections were highly variable from year to year and among the different protected areas, ranging from 1.8 fires*year−1/km2 in the Chobe Forest Reserve to 7.1 fires*year−1/km2 in the Kasane Forest Reserve Extension. Clustering and timing of dry season fires suggests that ignitions were predominately from anthropogenic sources. Annual fire count was significantly related to total annual rainfall (p = 0.009, adj. R2 = 0.50), with a 41% increase in average fire occurrence in years when rainfall exceeded long-term mean annual precipitation (MAP). Loss of woodland was significantly associated with fire in locations experiencing 15 or more ignitions during the period 2001–2013 (p = 0.024). Although elephant-mediated damage is often cited as a major cause of woodland degradation in northern Botswana, we observed little evidence of unsustainable pressure on woodlands from growing elephant populations. Our data indicate broad-scale LCC processes in semi-arid savannas in Southern Africa are strongly coupled to environmental and anthropogenic forcings. Increased seasonal variability is likely to have important effects on the distribution of savanna plant communities due to climate-fire feedbacks. Long-term monitoring of LCC in these ecosystems is essential to improving land use planning and management strategies that protect biodiversity, as well as traditional cultures and livelihoods under future climate change scenarios for Southern Africa. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Open AccessArticle Mapping Land Cover and Estimating the Grassland Structure in a Priority Area of the Chihuahuan Desert
Received: 5 September 2017 / Revised: 11 October 2017 / Accepted: 13 October 2017 / Published: 20 October 2017
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Abstract
A field characterization of the grassland vegetation structure, represented by the coverage of grass canopy (CGC) and the grass height, was carried out during three years (2009–2011) in a priority area for the conservation of grasslands of North America. Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM5)
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A field characterization of the grassland vegetation structure, represented by the coverage of grass canopy (CGC) and the grass height, was carried out during three years (2009–2011) in a priority area for the conservation of grasslands of North America. Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM5) images were selected and the information of reflectance was obtained based on the geographical location of each field-sampling site. Linear models, constructed with field and satellite data, with high coefficients of determination for CGC (R2 = 0.81, R2 = 0.81 and R2 = 0.72) and grass height (R2 = 0.82, R2 = 0.79 and R2 = 0.73) were obtained. The maps showed a good level of CGC (>25%) and grass height (>25 cm), except for the year 2009, which presented the lowest values of grass height in the area. According to the Kappa Index, a moderate concordance among the three CGC maps was presented (0.49–0.59). Conversely, weak and moderate concordances were found among the grass height maps (0.36–0.59). It was observed that areas with a high CGC do not necessarily correspond to areas with greater grass height values. Based on the data analyzed in this study, the grassland areas are highly dynamic, structurally heterogeneous and the spatial distribution of the variables does not show a definite pattern. From the information generated, it is possible to determine those areas that are the most important for monitoring to then establish effective strategies for the conservation of these grasslands and the protection of threatened migratory bird species. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Open AccessArticle Vegetation in Drylands: Effects on Wind Flow and Aeolian Sediment Transport
Received: 19 July 2017 / Revised: 14 September 2017 / Accepted: 14 September 2017 / Published: 18 September 2017
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Abstract
Drylands are characterised by patchy vegetation, erodible surfaces and erosive aeolian processes. Empirical and modelling studies have shown that vegetation elements provide drag on the overlying airflow, thus affecting wind velocity profiles and altering erosive dynamics on desert surfaces. However, these dynamics are
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Drylands are characterised by patchy vegetation, erodible surfaces and erosive aeolian processes. Empirical and modelling studies have shown that vegetation elements provide drag on the overlying airflow, thus affecting wind velocity profiles and altering erosive dynamics on desert surfaces. However, these dynamics are significantly complicated by a variety of factors, including turbulence, and vegetation porosity and pliability effects. This has resulted in some uncertainty about the effect of vegetation on sediment transport in drylands. Here, we review recent progress in our understanding of the effects of dryland vegetation on wind flow and aeolian sediment transport processes. In particular, wind transport models have played a key role in simplifying aeolian processes in partly vegetated landscapes, but a number of key uncertainties and challenges remain. We identify potential future avenues for research that would help to elucidate the roles of vegetation distribution, geometry and scale in shaping the entrainment, transport and redistribution of wind-blown material at multiple scales. Gaps in our collective knowledge must be addressed through a combination of rigorous field, wind tunnel and modelling experiments. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Open AccessReview Environmental Conservation in the Tibetan Plateau Region: Lessons for China’s Belt and Road Initiative in the Mountains of Central Asia
Received: 15 March 2018 / Revised: 9 April 2018 / Accepted: 10 April 2018 / Published: 17 April 2018
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Abstract
Environmental conservation has developed significantly in China over the past 20 years, including more collaborative approaches and recent advances in establishing a national parks system. This study reviews the development of protected areas in the headwaters of the Yangtze River, drawing lessons from
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Environmental conservation has developed significantly in China over the past 20 years, including more collaborative approaches and recent advances in establishing a national parks system. This study reviews the development of protected areas in the headwaters of the Yangtze River, drawing lessons from experiences of community development and co-management approaches. Community engagement and participation in developing localized plans for natural resource utilization and conservation have been critical features of successful ventures. Government programs and policies, the emergence of grassroots civil society, and the development of herders’ cooperatives and protected areas, are all tracked, each pointing towards the significant value of inclusive biodiversity conservation approaches for meeting broadly agreed development agendas, such as achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Observations from the vast, high, arid, and semi-arid lands of the Tibetan Plateau are then considered in light of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which is bringing vast financial and technical resources to the world. Special attention is given to applying the lessons that have been learned in China to the mountains of Central Asia, globally recognized as a biodiversity hotspot and a water tower for large downstream populations. Keeping local people at the heart of conservation is deemed fundamentally important. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Open AccessReview Moderating Climate Hazard Risk through Cooperation in Asian Drylands
Received: 6 December 2017 / Revised: 22 January 2018 / Accepted: 5 February 2018 / Published: 7 February 2018
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Abstract
Asia drylands face increasing climate hazard risk, changing socio-economic forces, and environmental challenges that affect community viability. As home to >1 billion residents, deserts are at the centre of the continent’s climate-human predicament. Extreme water scarcity, dependence on food imports and now conflict
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Asia drylands face increasing climate hazard risk, changing socio-economic forces, and environmental challenges that affect community viability. As home to >1 billion residents, deserts are at the centre of the continent’s climate-human predicament. Extreme water scarcity, dependence on food imports and now conflict increase hazard exposure across shared drylands, yet management differs from state to state. This paper argues that a more coherent strategy for mitigating risk would be based on natural environments. Linking hazards with livelihoods and social stability identifies how recent drought events disrupted ecosystems and societies. This results in borders rather than geography defining risk and response. Developing a dryland perspective across the continent can be an effective approach to reduce hazard risk and improve cooperation across Asia’s extensive arid lands. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Open AccessFeature PaperReview Central Asian ‘Characteristics’ on China’s New Silk Road: The Role of Landscape and the Politics of Infrastructure
Received: 24 July 2017 / Revised: 14 August 2017 / Accepted: 18 August 2017 / Published: 23 August 2017
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Abstract
China’s $1 trillion One Belt, One Road (OBOR) infrastructure project has significant landscape, socio-economic, and political implications in recipient countries. To date, investigation has focused on Chinese motivation and plans rather than OBOR impact in host nations. This paper examines the programme from
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China’s $1 trillion One Belt, One Road (OBOR) infrastructure project has significant landscape, socio-economic, and political implications in recipient countries. To date, investigation has focused on Chinese motivation and plans rather than OBOR impact in host nations. This paper examines the programme from the perspective of two Central Asian states—Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan—that are at the heart of OBOR. We identify geographical factors that constrain infrastructure, recognise geopolitical contestation between Russia and China, address historical and cultural factors, and consider issues of institutional capacity and marginality that may be impediments to China’s initiative. The discussion then focuses on how OBOR may play out in Central Asian landscapes and suggests how to conceive and address the unprecedented transformation in the region’s built environment. Critical issues are that OBOR has not been grounded in the physical geography, practical understanding of OBOR’s impacts is missing, and the state-citizen-China nexus remains unexplored. As pivot nations, OBOR implementation in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan will showcase the Chinese programme’s strengths and highlight its weaknesses. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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Other

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Open AccessBrief Report Dust Storms from Degraded Drylands of Asia: Dynamics and Health Impacts
Received: 16 October 2017 / Revised: 20 November 2017 / Accepted: 22 November 2017 / Published: 24 November 2017
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Abstract
Asian dust events are massive meteorological phenomena during which dust particles from Chinese and Mongolian deserts are blown into the atmosphere and carried by westerly winds across Northeast Asia. Recently, there has been steady increase in both the frequency and the severity of
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Asian dust events are massive meteorological phenomena during which dust particles from Chinese and Mongolian deserts are blown into the atmosphere and carried by westerly winds across Northeast Asia. Recently, there has been steady increase in both the frequency and the severity of Asian atmospheric dust events. Concern has been expressed regarding the potential health hazards in affected areas. The principal nature of the damage associated with Asian dust events differs between the emission (sandstorm) and downwind (air pollution) regions. In the emission region, the health impacts of dust storms are reflected in the high prevalence of respiratory diseases and severe subjective symptoms. Extreme dust storm events may cause a disaster to happen. In downwind regions such as Japan, analysis of Asian dust particles has shown the presence of ammonium ions, sulfate ions, nitrate ions, and heavy metal compounds that are considered not to originate from soil. Asian dust particles have been thought to adsorb anthropogenic atmospheric pollutants during transport. Therefore, Asian dust events coincide with increases in daily hospital admissions and clinical visits for allergic diseases such as asthma, allergic rhinitis, and conjunctivitis. Although the effect of Asian dust on human health in each region is influenced by a variety of different mechanisms, human activities are partly responsible for such negative effects in many situations. We therefore need to address these environmental problems. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies)
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