Application of Ecological Theory to Management of Arid Drylands: An Example from China

Document Type: Research and Full Length Article


1 Faculty of Rangeland and Watershed Management, Gorgan University of Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences, P. O. Box 386, Gorgan,

2 Dryland Management Consultant, P.O. Box 31 Magill 5072.


Rangeland ecosystems shift across dynamic thresholds between different
ecological states in response to natural or human-induced factors. These different
ecological states are the result of interactions among climate, soils, grazing history,
and management practices. The notion of a single ‘‘pristine’’ final state is only
conceptual in nature, and because of this, dynamic thresholds and the effects of
various processes on ecosystem structure and function must be incorporated into
decision-making. Rangeland managers should have a working knowledge of the
key ecological processes in each state, and the processes that drive a system across
a dynamic threshold from one state to another. To do this they need indicators for
critical decision-making points. It is essential to identify the thresholds of an
ecological transition state and ecological indicators of these states. The criteria of
these ecological indicators might be measurable, sensitive to stress on the system,
have a known response to disturbance and easy to measure. The state and transition
approach may offer an appropriate framework as an aid for decision making and
can be used to highlight ‘‘management windows’’ where opportunities can be
seized and hazards avoided. China’s vast drylands are used as a case study and the
potential to apply these principles is discussed.