Dryland ecosystems and the dangers of climate change

David Ramirez, Associate Scientist at the International Potato Center (CIP), recently participated as co-author in an article published in Nature, a prestigious international scientific journal. The article titled ‘Decoupling of soil nutrient cycles as a function of aridity in global drylands’ is based on a study that reveals that increasing aridity in dryland soils alters the delicate balance between carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus. This is turn provides insight into how global climate change will affect soil fertility and ecosystem services in years to come.

 

The report includes the participation of over 50 scientists from across the world and draws on numerous studies. It specifically reveals that the balance between carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus in dryland ecosystems will become increasingly disrupted as ecosystems become drier. What this means is that as aridity increases, the balance of these basic elements may accelerate – essential for the growth of plant life – and this could pass a tipping point that would be impossible to reverse.

 

This could greatly affect the livelihoods of people currently living in dryland ecosystems and also have wide-ranging consequences on a global scale. Within this context, the authors of the report point out that as aridity increases in dryland systems, the soil in these areas will be able to store less carbon, both above and below the ground, making it harder to capture atmospheric carbon dioxide which would further accelerate climate change.

 

In the short term however, the more pressing issue brought to light by the study is that decreased levels of soil carbon and nitrogen may affect the supply of soil nutrients. This would greatly affect the productivity of livestock and crops, and create severe hardships for the two billion people who depend on them in dryland ecosystems.

 

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