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Thresholds, novel ecosystems, and the sanctity of history

How is an ecosystem supposed to be? The answers determine how millions of dollars are spent and how ecosystems are transformed, with effects lasting centuries. Conflict over this question used to be between industry and environmentalists. Now ecologists are doing battle with one another too.

 

Scale, Management, and Ecosystem Services

The idea of ecosystem services is appealing to land ecologists.  It promises a new way to convey the value of ecosystems and ecological processes to a broad audience and focus attention on sustainable management of those services.  While this effort gives monetary value to what many of us have only been able to describe in terms of the passion we have for the workings of nature, quantifying ecosystem services to the point where they can be ‘monetized’ is a step or two beyond what most of us had in mind when we entered the profession.  Yet, if we are serious about communicating the value of

Brandon Bestelmeyer's picture

Desertification? With a grain of salt

A steady stream of news articles announce: “Desertification affects (insert fraction) of (insert country)”. A photograph of a sand-engulfed house, dry riverbed, dead animal, or close-up of cracked earth accompanies the story. Environmental catastrophes make for interesting reading. But it is seldom clear what ecological phenomena the term “desertification” actually refers to, and therefore what the solution might be. And it’s the solution that matters.

 

Why am I always the last to know?

'I have done that,' says my memory. 'I cannot have done that' -- says my pride, and remains adamant. At last -- memory yields.  Frederic Nietzsche

Brandon Bestelmeyer's picture

Tipping points and resilience in Mongolian grasslands

The future of Mongolian rangelands is at a crossroads. The decision is whether to try to control livestock numbers or to allow (or encourage) numbers to increase. Many believe that the latter will result in irreversible changes, including those called ‘desertification’.

 

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Degraded rangelands to deforestation in the Argentine Chaco

Twenty years ago I completed my Master’s work in the Chaco forests of northern Argentina. The native forests are, in fact, rangelands. In addition to livestock production, the forests are used for timber extraction and wildlife harvest (think tegu lizard cowboy boots). I took part in a project comparing biodiversity among production systems. A new system promised to reverse biodiversity loss and soil degradation. But it’s a moot point now since many of those forests have been cleared for cropland--the highest rate of tropical forest loss in the world.

A Sense of Place

I recently visited Santa Fe with some friends.  When we go there, we always seem to wind up at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.  Although most widely known as a pioneer of American Modernism and for her large format paintings of blossoms, she also revolutionized the way people viewed landscapes, especially New Mexico landscapes.  Many tourist guides now refer to the landscapes of northern New Mexico as ‘O’Keeffe Country’.  One of the popular exhibits mounted in the last decade is titled ‘

Technology News: Digital Soil Mapping and Ecological State Change

The path toward environmental sustainability and ecological resilience starts with maps. Different land areas present different risks and opportunities, so we need to be able to classify those land areas and know where the classes occur. One new approach to this task fuses soil science and vegetation ecology by linking digital soil mapping (DSM) to state-and-transition models (STMs).

Brandon Bestelmeyer's picture

Restoration + climate change = cognitive dissonance

Last week, an agricultural researcher from the Monte Desert in Argentina emailed me to put him in contact with a seed supplier in the US. They wanted seeds of the perennial grasses blue grama and Lehmann lovegrass for some revegetation trials. I wanted to hit reply with: ¡Por favor, no lo hagas! (don’t do it).

 

The Lesser Prairie Chicken says rangelands aren’t as healthy as we thought

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service just proposed to list as ‘threatened’ the Lesser Prairie Chicken throughout much of the high plains region based on a precipitous decline over the past 10-15 years.  This shouldn’t have happened.

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