Global Dryland Social-Ecological Systems

Short Description

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.

Goals and Objectives

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: 

  • Improve understanding on how dryland SESs will respond to ongoing global environmental changes worldwide; and
  • Promote research that facilitates the development of pathways towards enhanced resilience and sustainable development in dryland SESs to achieve the SDGs. 

Within these two goals, the main research objectives of this working group are as follows: 

  • Quantify the magnitude and direction of changes and feedbacks of dryland ecosystems to the earth system and societal processes;
  • Determine the factors controlling vulnerability and resilience of dryland SESs to natural and human disturbances; 
  • Reveal the impact of global environmental changes on ecosystem services, human well-being, and SES dynamics in drylands; and
  • Promote research-based solutions to dryland ecosystem management and policy aiming to achieve a sustainable development of dryland SESs worldwide.


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Related Information


July 11, 2022
Sunday, November 27, 2022 (All day) to Thursday, December 1, 2022 (All day)

Five days of scientific and policy sessions, workshops, and tours focusing on topics such as: Earth Observation, Ecology, Economics, Ecosystem Services, Education, Energy, Food, Health, Society and Water.

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January 28, 2021

We are pleased to announce three new GLP Working Groups that launched at the start of 2021. They are: Agricultural Land Abandonment as a Global Land-use Change Phenomenon, Global Dryland Socio-Ecological Systems and Remittance Dynamics and Land Change. If these topics are of interest to you, please join one or more of the WGs today.

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