Lessons Learned - Jornada Basin LTER Key Research Findings

Among the many research results from our site, some findings stand out as being particularly important. The five short descriptions below of key findings emphasize the importance of long-term data in understanding the pace and pattern of ecological change.

New Paradigms for Arid Landscapes - We describe paradigms to convey our current understanding of the systems we study. In terms of the arid rangelands studied by scientists based at the Jornada since the early 20th Century, our understandings, the paradigms, have changed over time as the information we have collected about these lands has grown.  Recently, we and our colleagues have written a set of papers about these new paradigms that will be published in February 2015, in a special issue of the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment (FEE). 
Tipping Points resulting in state changes (or regime shifts) have been documented in many ecosystem types around the world, and are particularly important in dryland ecosystems, including those of the southwestern US. Dryland state changes include the conversion of agriculturally productive grasslands to unproductive shrublands, conversion to dominance by invasive species, or the loss of perennial vegetation altogether. 
Heterogeneity and Nonequilibrium Dynamics - Much of ecological research in terrestrial systems focuses on detailed understanding of local processes, such as competition for limiting resources, on fine-scale dynamics of individual plots that are extrapolated to broad-scale patterns of ecosystem types and biomes. Although this perspective can explain short-term dynamics at fine scales of plants and patches in drylands, landscape-scale dynamics over decadal time scales often cannot be extrapolated from finer scales of study. 
Accessible Ecology - Large amounts of information have been collected, and software tools have been developed to understand and predict dynamics of ecological systems. However, much of the data and tools remain inaccessible to a broad audience beyond the initial scientists, data collectors, and software developers. The Jornada has been developing tools and activities designed to make scientific knowledge readily available to many. 
Expanding Deserts - Desertification is the shift from perennial grasslands to shrublands that occurs globally to impact nearly 40% of the Earth’s land surface and a fifth of the world’s human population.  Desertification results from interactions between human activities (such as livestock overgrazing) and prolonged drought.  However, these broad-scale drivers are insufficient to explain variability in dynamics at finer scales. 
Ability to Restore - Jornada studies initiated in the early 1900s reveal how the change from productive, diverse perennial grasses to shrublands on degraded soils is difficult but not impossible to reverse. With over 1.25 billion people living in dryland areas, it is critical to understand the restoration potential of degraded systems. Desertified shrublands on degraded soils are believed to be very persistent, yet the need for services from these systems has led to numerous attempts to restore a grassland state, often with little success.