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Drylands cover 41% of the global land surface and support ~40% of the global population. They represent a vulnerable part of the Earth’s terrestrial environments due to low water availability, long dry spells, and high vulnerability to degradation, and they are under additional stress due to on-going climate change. Extended periods of limited water availability result in great vulnerability to global climate changes and anthropogenic disturbances in drylands, and the relatively low human population density means that dryland social-ecological systems (SESs) are often distant from centres of governance, business and learning.
SESs are complex adaptive systems that are constituted by interactions between diverse people and elements of diverse ecosystems. Facing the dynamic interactions among the human and nonhuman elements of a SES, scientific analysis tools are still lacking to synthesize SES knowledge into possible explanations of the social-ecological interactions and processes. In particular, research on the structure and function of dryland SESs has not received sufficient attention worldwide.
Given the speed and intensity of climate change and socioeconomic development, both of which risk aggravating issues such as land degradation, poverty, food and water insecurity in drylands, systematic research on both social and ecological processes as well as their interactions on these issues in dryland SES is essential. This research must operate across sectors, actors in society, and countries to capture synergies among Sustainable Development Goals and manage conflicts that may arise due to tradeoffs between goals.
Because the rapidly changing SESs in drylands are faced with growing threats, this working group aims to organize key salient concepts relevant to the interdisciplinary and cross-cultural understanding of dryland SESs, which have specific contexts and a geographically representative structure. The group thus has the potential to promote collaboration among global researchers as well as communication with policy makers, managers and practitioners for dryland ecosystem management to promote sustainability.
Understanding the dynamics, structure, functions and services of dryland SES is critical for addressing the vulnerability, resilience, livelihoods and sustainability of humans in the context of SDGs. Through synthesizing research across the world and analysing scientific evidence for best practices, the overall goals of this working group are as follows:
Within these two goals, the main research objectives of this working group are as follows: