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Drylands are not the same as badlands

DURHAM, N.C. -- Drylands, where 38 percent of the world's population lives, can be protected from the irreversible damage of desertification if local residents and managers at all levels would follow basic sustainability principles, according to a panel of experts writing in the May 11 issue of the journal Science.

The study makes a point of introducing hope rather than the usual gloom, said James Reynolds of Duke University, who is the first author. "(Given) recent advances in dryland development, concerns about land degradation, poverty, safeguarding biodiversity and protecting the culture of 2.5 billion people can be confronted with renewed optimism," the report said.

Covering about 41 percent of the globe's land surfaces, drylands are arid and semiarid areas with scarce and unpredictable precipitation where about 2.5 billion people live off the land by raising livestock and growing certain drought-tolerant crops.

Between 10 percent and 20 percent of drylands are undergoing some degree of severe land degradation that is likely to expand in the face of climate change and population growth.

"These are serious problems, no doubt," Reynolds said. "And they could be exacerbated by climate change. But it doesn't always have to lead to negative outcomes. We are trying to take a more positive perspective, saying that adhering to some common-sense principles can really make a difference in understanding and managing these lands.

"The culture surrounding topics of desertification has always been embedded in this negativity and pessimism that 'woe is us,' " added Reynolds, a professor of environmental science and biology at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences.

The report calls on managers to recognize that maintaining vulnerable and delicately balanced dryland systems involves a changeable mix of ecological factors and human ones.

For example, economic losses may force a ma
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Contact: Monte Basgall
monte.basgall@duke.edu
919-681-8057
Duke University
10-May-2007


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