This month the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B devotes an entire Theme Issue to the global drylands!
This is not new, but this video by ChinaGreen (link in post title above) was also shot in the Horqin Sand Land not far from my field sites at Naiman, so I thought I’d pass it on. Lovely cinematography, and great off-the-cuff comments by the ‘locals’.
Mature trees are an important source of fuelwood and provide wind blocks in this notoriously windy region, but I wonder why no one is talking about how much water it is going to take to keep all of these trees alive to maturity. Especially when there are several viable alternatives that require much less water. Native shrubs like Caragana microphylla, early successional forbs such as Hedysarum fruticosum and the annual grass Setaria viridis do not require such intensive irrigation and they also can stabilize sand dunes. Or there is also the practice of burying of straw ‘checkerboards’, which is also very effective for dune stabilization*, and it requires no water at all. I’d like to see more press coverage of these, admittedly less flashy, restoration methods.
*e.g. this: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140196303001484, or this: http://en.cnki.com.cn/Article_en/CJFDTOTAL-ZGSS200503005.htm
In 2008 and 2010 the reporting group Circle of Blue sent a group of reporters to the Horqin Sand Land of Inner Mongolia to talk with local people about their experience with desertification. They have put together a nice multimedia package of videos, photos and written pieces.
This is the same region of Inner Mongolia where I did my fieldwork in 2009, and much of what they report echoes the stories that I heard and things I witnessed while I was there. Lakes drying up, drastic lifestyle changes of former pastoralists forced onto fenced plots of land, and the sand…. always the blowing sand. Their more recent report highlights recent tree planting efforts across Inner Mongolia. I have a longer post coming soon on my thoughts on this trend of revegetation via water-intensive trees, versus native drought-tolerant shrubs and grasses.
Interesting new review & meta-analysis by Eldridge and colleagues in Ecology Letters makes the important point that shrub encroachment does not necessarily equal desertification. In fact, in some Mediterranean systems it may signify desertification reversal.
I have a longer post brewing with regards to this and few other recent pieces that collectively emphasize the point that arid regions worldwide are not a homogenous ecosystem. Stay tuned.
”…drylands are habitually perceived as peripheral and unimportant and hence neglected by the political and business communities.”
I would argue that top journals & major funding institutions should be included in this quote.
Final fieldwork trip!
768 soil samples in three and a half days. A new record.
We’re hoping our new grid sampling scheme will help us to shed some light on how long-term livestock removal impacts the spatial distribution of soil nutrients.
Now we wait anxiously for the results from the soil lab. Can’t wait to get started on some new analysis techniques. We’ll be using geostatistics to look for cross-fence differences in the distribution patterns.
TNC map of the remaining grasslands in Arizona.
Dalai Lake is the kidney of the Hulunbuir grasslands – and of course you’re going to suffer if your kidney stops working
Story in the Guardian today on the UN’s Decade to Combat Desertification.
Of note in the article is the emphasis on soil conservation,
The top 20cm of soil is all that stands between us and extinction.
and the socio-political tensions that land degradation creates, as more people are forced to compete for fewer resources.