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Connectivity in dryland landscapes: shifting concepts of spatial interactions

Gregory S Okin, Mariano Moreno-de las Heras, Patricia M Saco, Heather L Throop, Enrique R Vivoni, Anthony J Parsons, John Wainwright, Debra PC Peters
Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 2015 v.13 no.1 pp. 20-27
animals, arid lands, decision making, ecosystems, land management, landscapes, seed dispersal, soil, soil fertility, soil resources, vegetation, vegetation structure, water, wind
Dryland ecosystems are often characterized by patchy vegetation and exposed soil. This structure enhances transport of soil resources and seeds through the landscape (primarily by wind and water, but also by animals), thus emphasizing the importance of connectivity – given its relation to the flow of these materials – as a component of dryland ecosystem function. We argue that, as with the fertile‐islands conceptual model before it, the concept of connectivity explains many phenomena observed in drylands. Further, it serves as an organizing principle to understand dryland structure and function at scales from individual plants to entire landscapes. The concept of connectivity also helps to organize thinking about interactions among processes occurring at different scales, such as when processes at one scale are overridden by processes at another. In these cases, we suggest that state change occurs when fine‐scale processes fail to adjust to new external conditions through resource use or redistribution at the finer scale. The connectivity framework has practical implications for land management, especially with respect to decision making concerning the scale and location of agricultural production or habitat restoration in the world's drylands.