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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

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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).

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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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Lost in translational ecology

As graduate students, some of us entertained the hope that our science would trickle down from the ivory tower and inoculate land managers with the seeds of broader vision and better practices. That seldom happened. Over the last decade+ since, there has been a lot of hand-wringing about the science-management interface. In the 1990s, I recall that “applied” ecology was met with thinly-veiled disdain from members of the ecological science establishment.

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Are your feedbacks positive or negative?

There is much confusion in use of the terms “positive” and “negative” feedback. Some folks have used negative feedback to mean a negative outcome, adding to the confusion. Here I try to clarify the meaning of positive and negative feedbacks.

A useful, Wikipedia-sourced summary is: A negative feedback loop is one that tends to slow down a process, whereas the positive feedback loop tends to accelerate it.

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