The objectives of this study were to understand the ecological processes and possible management strategies in desertified shrublands. We hypothesized that biological production and diversity in desertified shrublands in the Negev in Israel are low due to water, soil, and nutrient leakage from the ecosystem. We designed a series of field experiments in order to examine (a) whether source–sink relationships exist between the crusted soil and the shrub patches, (b) whether resources (water, soil, and nutrients) leak from the system, and (c) whether management, which changes the landscape mosaic by introducing new sink patches that reduce leakage of resources, may increase productivity and diversity. The results indicate that the low number of shrub patches, which serve as sinks for resources, leads to water, soil, and nutrient leakage from the ecosystem. This leakage reduces ecosystem production and diversity. We found that artificially created pits, which act as sinks for resources, decrease leakage and increase biomass production and annual plant species diversity. Based on the experimental results, we developed conceptual models for shrubland desertification and ecosystem management. The models are based on a source–sink relationship between two patch types characteristic of shrublands. The models relate landscape productivity to the number of sink patches and suggest that, in cases where there are too few sinks, artificially created sink patches should be added. Management methods were developed to reduce resource leakage in the desertified shrubland of the Negev. Methods included construction of man-made pits in the landscape that add resource-enriched patches to the landscape. These patches are used to create parks consisting of clusters of trees integrated into a matrix of shrubs and herbaceous vegetation. The managed parks are used for recreational purposes and for rangeland.
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