Do Changes in Connectivity Explain Desertification?
Arid and semiarid regions cover more than 40% of Earth's land surface. Desertification, or broadscale land degradation in drylands, is a major environmental hazard facing inhabitants of the world's deserts as well as an important component of global change. There is no unifying framework that simply and effectively explains different forms of desertification. In this article, we argue for the unifying concept that diverse forms of desertification, and its remediation, are driven by changes in the length of connected pathways for the movement of fire, water, and soil resources. Biophysical feedbacks increase the length of connected pathways, explaining the persistence of desertified landscapes around the globe. Management of connectivity in the context of environmental and socioeconomic change is essential to understanding, and potentially reversing, the harmful effects of desertification.