Increasing climate and land use change overlap in arid lands– potential to affect 36% of world’s population

  • Increasing aridity and land-use overlap have potential to cause social and economic conflict in dryland areas
  • scenario framework used to estimate how climate and land uses influence ecosystems and landscapes

May 23, 2017 Northern Arizona University  see here for ScienceDaily article

Drylands are of environmental concern because broad-scale changes in these systems have the potential to affect 36 percent of the world’s human population, suggests new research.

Climate change combined with overlapping high-intensity land uses are likely to create conditions detrimental to the recreation economy, wildlife habitat, water availability and other resources in hyper-arid landscapes, or drylands, in the future, according to a paper published recently in Ecosphere. Drylands are of concern because broad-scale changes in these systems have the potential to affect 36 percent of the world’s human population…..

…The research team examined the combined effects of climate change and human land use — agriculture, recreation, energy development, mining and population growth — on a range of ecosystem functions and landscape attributes. “Our approach offers a relatively simple method for scenario development that could be applied to a wide range of change agents, ecosystem services and regions,” said lead author Stella Copeland, NAU Merriam-Powell Center post-doctoral scholar. “Tools such as these can be used to inform natural resource planning and management efforts in the United States and elsewhere.”

The study examined four scenarios to estimate how climate change and overlapping land uses may influence ecosystem functions and landscape attributes. Although outcomes varied by scenario and characteristic, the recreation economy had the highest impacts for all scenarios; followed by vegetation and wildlife habitat and cultural and spiritual values; water availability; soil productivity; and cropland productivity….

Stella M. Copeland, John B. Bradford, Michael C. Duniway, Rudy M. Schuster. Potential impacts of overlapping land-use and climate in a sensitive dryland: a case study of the Colorado Plateau, USA. Ecosphere, 2017; 8 (5): e01823 DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.1823

Abstract: The combination of co-occurring climate change and increasing land-use is likely to affect future environmental and socioeconomic conditions in drylands; these hyper-arid to sub-humid landscapes are limited by water resources and prone to land degradation. We characterized the potential for geographic overlap among land-use practices and between land-use and climate change on the Colorado Plateau—a dryland region experiencing rapid changes in land-use and facing aridification. We characterized spatial patterns and temporal trends in aridification, land-use, and recreation at the county and 10-km2 grid scales. Increasing trends and overlapping areas of high intensity for use, including oil and gas development and recreation, and climate drying, suggest areas with high potential to experience detrimental effects to the recreation economy, water availability, vegetation and wildlife habitat, and spiritual and cultural resources. Patterns of overlap in high-intensity land-use and climate drying differ from the past, indicating the potential for novel impacts and suggesting that land managers and planners may require new strategies to adapt to changing conditions. This analytical framework for assessing the potential impacts of overlapping land-use and climate change could be applied with other drivers of change or to other regions to create scenarios at various spatial scales in support of natural resource planning efforts.