Grasslands in the Borderlands. Understanding coupled natural-human systems and transboundary conservation

TitleGrasslands in the Borderlands. Understanding coupled natural-human systems and transboundary conservation
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsCeballos, G, List, R, Davidson, A, Fredrickson, EL, Sierra, CR, Martinez, L, Herrick, JE, Pacheco, J
EditorFlessa, KW
Series EditorMorehouse, B
Book TitleConservation of Shared Environments. Learning from the United States and Mexico
Pagination188-203
PublisherUniversity of Arizona Press
CityTucson, AZ
Accession NumberLTER.2009-90181
KeywordsJRN, us
Abstract

Grasslands are one of the shared ecosystems that dominate the heart of the North American continent. Among these are the Chihuahuan Desert grasslands that are undergoing a rapid transition to desertified, arid scrub conditions. Policy-driven landuse changes are reducing their capacity to maintain biodiversity, ecosystem services, and human well-being. In northwestern Chihuahua, and adjoining New Mexico, Arizona and Texas, degradation occurred differentially on either side of the border with degradation in the United States preceding that in Mexico, but becoming more pronounced in some parts of Mexico during the last two decades. Degradation patterns in the United States can inform Mexican conservation efforts, while relatively intact Mexican ecosystems provide valuable insights into functional grassland systems. Our collaborative socio-ecological study of the patterns and processes governing ecological change is guiding grassland recovery with the goal of maintaining biodiversity that appears necessary to reinstate lost ecosystem services and grassland productivity on which human population’s in the transbounday region depend. As this chapter discusses, prairie dogs in this region exhibit the characteristics of a keystone species and are important ecosystem engineers that maintain northern Chihuahuan grasslands. They are critical for the maintenance of biodiversity and support grassland ecosystem functioning, resulting in important benefits for humans. The natural process of prairie dogs supporting ecosystem function creates ecosystem services essential for human well-being. This process is disrupted by poor land management (i.e., governmental policies that promote cattle overgrazing) resulting in environmental degradation that results in a loss of biodiversity, alteration of ecosystem function, and reduction of ecosystem services. In this chapter we present an approach to overcome the negative cycle of overgrazing, and discuss how this approach could be implemented bi-nationally.

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