, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 151-159

El Niño as a Window of Opportunity for the Restoration of Degraded Arid Ecosystems

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Abstract

Most arid ecosystems have suffered from severe overexploitation by excessive wood harvesting, overgrazing, and agriculture, resulting in depletion of vegetation biomass and soil erosion. These changes are often difficult to reverse due to positive feedbacks that tend to stabilize the new situation. In this paper, we briefly review evidence for the idea that different states in these ecosystems might represent alternative equilibria and present a graphic model that summarizes the implications for their response to changing environmental conditions. We show how, in the light of this theoretical framework, climatic oscillations such as El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) could be used in combination with grazer control to restore degraded arid ecosystems. We also present evidence that, depending on grazing pressure, ENSO episodes can trigger structural and long-lasting changes in these ecosystems.

Received 21 March 2000; accepted 29 November 2000.