Land degradation is difficult to define because land can only be considered degraded with respect to some use to which it may be put. However, physical and biological properties of the landscape are typically measured to characterize degradation rather than its inherent or potential utility. One approach to characterizing land degradation is by assessing the provisioning of ecosystem services. Most provisioning ecosystem services depend on water, and water management is crucial to maintaining and increasing ecosystem services in arid lands. In contrast, vegetation change has been most commonly employed as an indicator of land degradation. Nevertheless, the close relationship that exists between vegetation and other biophysical processes of the environment means that any change in vegetation will result in a concomitant change to these other processes also. Of particular importance is a change in vegetation distribution since the spatial distribution of associated biophysical parameters controls landscape fluxes, and hence degradation, by controlling landscape connectivity. From a management perspective, an understanding of the degree of connectivity in a landscape can aid in triage of remediation efforts. Areas that are dominated by long connected pathways will not respond to localized, small-scale manipulations because those pathways present inertia that a small-scale manipulation cannot overcome. Two important ecosystem services provided by drylands are grazing land and agricultural land. Both land uses can be drivers of degradation. The role of grazing in land degradation depends on several factors which can be grouped into three categories: number of animals, kind of animal species and grazing system. For agriculture, systematic crop residue removal without fertilisation, poor cultivation practices and extensive soil salinization are examples of mismanagement that may lead to land degradation. Aside from the immediate provisioning of food, drylands provide ecosystem services at a broader scale. Drylands are highly significant to the global carbon cycle. Land degradation in drylands has implications for the effectiveness of carbon sequestration as well as for storage (through soil erosion). Because many dryland soils have been degraded they are currently far from saturated with carbon and as a result their potential to sequester carbon may be highly significant. To understand land degradation better, efforts have been made to develop integrated human-environment research that overcomes the perceived deficiencies of reductionist, discipline-based research. However, much integrated environmental research to-date has resulted in a ‘hierarchical relationship’ between the human and physical components. Three approaches have been advocated to improve human-environment understanding: (a) systems science that emphasises feedbacks between integrated human and natural systems; (b) computer-simulation modelling that explicitly represents the interaction of individual human decisions and physical processes; and (c) participatory research that emphasises engagement with the actors in the region being studied. However, many questions remain open, and advancing beyond narrow scientific disciplinary specialization is vital if the hierarchical relationship in understanding physical and social causes of land degradation is to be broken.
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|Titolo:||The study of land degradation in drylands: state of the art|
|Data di pubblicazione:||2013|
|Appare nelle tipologie:||2.1 Contributo in volume (Capitolo o Saggio)|