Ecology of Semi-arid Regions

Festuca pallescens Parodi steppes in Patagonia. The degradation due to overgrazing was not recognized due to the higly variable rainfall. Picture: Sandro Pütz.

(Semi-) Arid regions are characterised by highly variable and unpredictable rainfall. The livelihood of at least one billion people depends on the use of this land. However, understanding patterns and processes of vegetation dynamics in (semi)-arid plant communities is an inherently difficult task due to several factors such as the mismatch in time scales between observation and vegetation change, the occurrence of complex event-driven dynamics, spatial heterogeneities, and non-equilibrium ecosystem dynamics. With the help of modelling, we aim to improve the general understanding how processes such as spatially and temporally variable rainfall and interactions between species and land use influence the dynamics of (semi-)arid regions (e.g. in South Africa, Namibia, Argentina (Patagonia), Morocco, China (Eastern Tibetan Plateau), Australia). In particular our research focuses on:

  • The structure and long-term dynamics of vegetation in (semi-)arid grasslands and savannas subject to variable rainfall and grazing.
  • Upscaling of the local dynamics at the individual plant level to the management relevant scales of hundreds of hectares
  • Emergence of spatial patterns such as fairy circles in (semi)-arid communities
  • Emergence of patterns and resilience in savannas.
  • Developing a mechanistic understanding of degradation and desertification processes by exploring the interactions among climatic drivers and human impacts on demographic processes of key species in (semi-)arid ecosystems.
  • Ecological and economic strategies for risk management in and long-term sustainable use of semi-arid lands in the face of highly stochastic environmental conditions and global change.

Selected Publications