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Global Drylands Center news

Global Drylands Center news

Global Drylands Center news

How to preserve commodities in the face of climate change

September 26, 2019

Amazon forest fireGlobal outrage over the fires in the Amazon has once again generated a debate about how to take care of our environment. In analyzing the causes of the fires, experts point their fingers at illegal deforestation by individuals and organizations that want to exploit the forest for agriculture, mining and logging.

However, in certain countries such as Argentina, those very same industries (agriculture, mining and logging) are presented as a source of economic salvation. Is it possible to reconcile both worlds or does nature facing a losing battle? 

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New research by ASU professor furthers understanding of dryland litter cycles

September 11, 2019

Heather ThroopArizona State University professor Heather Throop penned a new research article that advances our understanding of dryland litter cycles. Drylands are arid ecosystems characterized by a lack of water. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, drylands  "have been shaped by a combination of low precipitation, droughts and heat waves."

Litter in this case refers to parts of plants that have detached and fallen to the ground. A litter cycle is then the journey of litter from its location on the ground, its movement by horizontal or vertical vectors (such as water), and its eventual decomposition in the same or a secondary location. The litter decomposition rates in drylands are often underpredicted, resulting in a key knowledge gap that is important to address because litter decomposition has a significant influence on ecosystem properties. 

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ASU professors named 2019 American Geophysical Union Fellows

August 30, 2019

Osvaldo SalaArizona State University professors Osvaldo Sala, a drylands researcher and Regents Professor in the School of Life Sciences, and Meenakshi Wadhwa, a cosmochemistry expert and the new director of ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, have been elected to the 2019 class of the American Geophysical Union Fellows. The election is an honor just 0.1% of AGU members in any given year enjoy. To be elected is a recognition of “attaining scientific eminence through achievements in research, as demonstrated by a breakthrough or discovery, innovation in science or the development of methods and instruments, or sustained impact," according to the AGU.

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Sala elected president of the Ecological Society of America

August 17, 2019

Osvaldo SalaOsvaldo Sala, a Regents and Foundation Professor at Arizona State University and a Distinguished Sustainability Scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, was elected on August 16 as president of the Ecological Society of America. Elected by ESA members during the society’s annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, Sala will be president for a one-year term that ends in 2020. He is the first Hispanic person to serve as president in the organization's century-long history.

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When roundworms lose, carbon emissions rise

June 10, 2019

Sala PNAS Nematode Experiment full imageSoil food webs play a key role in supporting grassland ecosystems, which cover about one-quarter of the land on Earth. Climate change poses a threat to these environments, partly because of the uncertainty of extremes in rainfall, which is projected to increase.

To learn more about the effects of these extreme events, a team of soil and plant ecologists, supported by funding from the National Science Foundation, studied nematodes, which play a key role in carbon and nutrient cycling and decomposition in soil.

Principal Investigator Osvaldo Sala is founding director of the Global Drylands Center at Arizona State University. We asked him about the study, out June 10, 2019, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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NSF grant boosts student-driven ecological research

June 7, 2019

Arizona State University Professors Heather Throop and Osvaldo Sala have been awarded an International Research Experiences for Students (IRES) grant from The National Science Foundation of approximately $294,000. The grant, initiated under the auspices of the Global Drylands Center (GDC), will fund ecological research projects led by the collaborative effort of GDC and the Gobabeb Training and Research Center in Namibia.

IRES supports research for U.S. students contributing to the development of a diverse and globally engaged workforce. Student-driven projects will explore how broad-scale climate patterns and local-scale factors (e.g. soil properties) interact to control dryland ecological processes.

GDC map
Distribution of global drylands (delineated by dashed lines) and the number of peer-reviewed studies on dryland ecology by country (modified from Maestre et al. 2012). Namibia is located in the red circle.

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Desert ecologist earns top faculty honor

View Source | February 8, 2019

Osvaldo Sala Osvaldo Sala, an ecologist and distinguished sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, was named a Regents' Professor at Arizona State University. To be awarded the distinction, scholars must be full professors, with outstanding achievements in their fields, who are nationally and internationally recognized by their peers.

Sala has spent more than 35 years studying the driest places on Earth: the Patagonian steppe, the annual grasslands of California, the Kalahari in southern Africa, the Loess Plateau in China and the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico. His publications are among the most cited in the fields of ecology, sustainability and biology. He has more than 200 publications and 40,000 citations. Sala is also the founding director of the Global Drylands Center.

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Newly funded grant will address aridity effects on nutrient cycles

December 14, 2018

Osvaldo-Sala-Blue-ShirtGlobal Drylands Center director Osvaldo Sala is part of a research team that recently garnered funding from the Australian Research Council. The project, entitled “Biogeochemical mismatches: Decoupling of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus cycles during drought,” is led by researcher Uffe Nielsen, a colleague of Sala Lab based at Western Sydney University.

Drought modifies carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles with implications for plant growth and productivity. Biogeochemical decoupling occurs during drought due to differential impacts of water availability on these nutrients, resulting in an imbalanced nutrient supply for plants. The aim of this project is to identify the tipping points where drought causes biogeochemical decoupling and determine the underlying biological mechanisms. To date, no systematic approach to generalizing shifts in C, N and P due to drought impacts across aridity gradients exists.

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3 ASU sustainability scientists honored with Regents' Professor title

View Source | November 19, 2018

Hayden OverheadRegents’ Professors are the elite of the academic world. To be awarded the distinction, scholars must be full professors, with outstanding achievements in their fields, who are nationally and internationally recognized by their peers.

No more than 3 percent of all faculty at Arizona State University carry the distinction.

This year, four ASU faculty members are being recognized as Regents’ Professors. Three of these professors are sustainability scientists in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability: Osvaldo Sala, Donald Fixico and Stewart Fotheringham . Let's meet them.

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Global Drylands Center director recognized for contributions to ecology

November 8, 2018

Argentina Meeting group pic Rachel TateOsvaldo Sala, distinguished sustainability scientist and founding director of the Global Drylands Center at Arizona State University, has been named an honorary member of the Asociación Argentina de Ecología (AsAE).

Honorary members are recognized for their extraordinary contribution to ecology as a science and to the functioning of AsAE. Sala was recognized at the XXVIII Reunión Argentina de Ecología in October in the city of Mar del Plata. The meeting, held biennially and organized by AsAE, included a symposium honoring Sala’s research legacy and commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of his 1988 seminal paper “Primary Production of the Central Grassland Region of the United States."

According to the organization's website, AsAE is an association that “brings together researchers, professors, fellows, professionals and students from all branches of environmental science." A primary role for AsAE is to promote Argentine ecological research. The association also addresses the application of ecology to environmental problems and contributes to the management of sustainable resources.

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Global Drylands Center affiliate wins 2018 American Geophysical Union Ambassador Award

October 11, 2018

Esteban JobbágyEsteban Jobbágy, an Arizona State University Global Drylands Center affiliate, has been named a 2018 American Geophysical Union Ambassador Award recipient. Recipients are chosen and recognized for their achievements in space and Earth science and also their dedication to science that benefits humanity.

AGU President Eric Davidson stated in a press release that “this year’s awardees exemplify AGU’s ongoing commitment to recognizing and promoting the best scientific research, education, and communication in the Earth and space sciences.” Honorees will be recognized at the 2018 AGU Fall Meeting in Washington, D.C. this December.

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ASU's Global Drylands Center sparks collaborations between universities

June 18, 2018

Professor Enrique Vivoni
ASU Professor Enrique Vivoni

In the fall of 2017, the Global Drylands Center, a unit of Arizona State University's Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, released a call for proposals aiming to foster collaboration between ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, a public research university in Israel. Successful proposals were funded and are starting to gear up.

As a result of a funded proposal, Senior Sustainability Scientist Enrique Vivoni, who teaches at ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, is visiting professor Tal Svoray at Ben-Gurion University to consolidate their research agenda. Their research is aimed at understanding ecohydrological controls on vegetation distribution patterns in drylands. While visiting the university, Vivoni will deliver a seminar titled “Channel transmission losses and streamflow yield in arid piedmont slopes.” This event is open to the public.

ASU Ben Gurion University Global Drylands Seminar announcement

ASU launches the Global Drylands Center

March 29, 2018

Global DrylandsThe Global Drylands Center (GDC) celebrated its first six months with its official launch last Thursday. The amicable gathering hosted at the University Club brought together affiliates and faculty from diverse disciplines. A welcoming talk by GDC Director Dr. Osvaldo Sala highlighted early accomplishments, acknowledged the help and participation of affiliates and staff, and thanked the support of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and ASU Wrigley Institute.

Following, ASU Wrigley Institute Director Gary Dirks highlighted the intersecting grounds of GDC and the ASU charter. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Natural Sciences Dean Ferrán García-Pichel also gave some words, offering a historic perspective of the center as an interesting analogy between the importance of history for science and the inception of GDC.

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Second Gathering ASU-CICESE (Segundo Encuentro ASU-CICESE)

View Source | February 28, 2018

U.S. Customs Border Protection Southwest Border Arizona FenceLineArizona State University hosted a group of faculty members and researchers from the Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada (CICESE) during the ‘Second Gathering ASU-CICESE’ (‘Segundo Encuentro ASU-CICESE’) in February 2018. This meeting was an opportunity to continue the interaction and ideas exchange on scientific topics of relevance to natural resources management in southwestern North America.

Participants included four faculty and one researcher from CICESE (Drs. Cuauhtémoc Turrent Thompson, Rodrigo Méndez Alonzo, Alejandro Hinojosa Corona, Steven Bullock and Alejandro Cueva), as well as 27 faculty members, researchers and graduate students from ASU. The activity consisted of scientific discussions organized in two breakout groups on topics of mutual institutional interest, presentations on cross-border scientific efforts at ASU, and discussions on alternative financing models for trans-border efforts.

The event – supported by the Global Drylands Center, School of Earth and Space Exploration, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and CICESE – demonstrates ASU’s international collaboration efforts in research, education and outreach. A press release by the National Scientific and Technical Research Council of Mexico (CONACYT) highlights the importance and bi-national interest in the event.

Largest community of ecologists names ASU scientist its 2019 president

February 7, 2018

Osvaldo-Sala-Blue-ShirtThe members of the Ecological Society of America have elected Osvaldo Sala – founding director of Arizona State University's Global Drylands Center – to a three-year term on the ESA governing board. Sala will assume the role of president elect in August 2018, president in 2019 and past president in 2020.

Sala is a professor in the School of Life Sciences and the Julie A. Wrigley Chair in Life Sciences and Sustainability in the School of Sustainability. He founded the Global Drylands Center in 2017 to engage key stakeholders in dryland stewardship and develop solutions for arid ecosystems around the world. Of over 100 previous ESA presidents, Sala will be the first Hispanic person to hold the position.

Founded in 1915, the ESA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit community of more than 9,000 scientists, researchers, decision makers, policy managers and educators who are dedicated to understanding life on Earth. It is the largest community of ecologists in the world.

Forecasting dryland vulnerability for the Department of Defense

November 9, 2017

Department of Defense DesertA multi-disciplinary team from Arizona State University, U.S. Geological Survey, New Mexico State University, University of Arizona and Utah State University will carry out research to inform the management of Department of Defense drylands in the western U.S. The newly-funded proposal will investigate the interactive effects of climate change and disturbance on vegetation communities and ecosystem processes across three large deserts of the western U.S.

Researchers will assess the vulnerability of vegetation and ecosystem processes to drought and disturbance with a set of factorial field experiments aimed at isolating key drivers of change under drought conditions predicted by climate models. They will combine experimental results with existing long-term climate and vegetation data collected in actively-managed and paired-protected areas to quantitatively model and scale vegetation sensitivity to different climate drivers in relation to disturbance history. Importantly, this allows for frameworks of understanding and planning at spatiotemporal scales not possible with on-the-ground or site-specific measurements alone.

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Deep percolation in arid piedmont watersheds and its sensitivity to ecosystem change

October 26, 2017

DrylandsDoctor of Philosophy Defense Announcement for Adam Schreiner-McGraw

Date: November 2, 2017

Time: 3:00 PM

Location: ISTB4, Room 240

Advisor: Enrique Vivoni

Committee Members: Kelin Whipple, Osvaldo Sala, Heather Throop and Giuseppe Mascaro

Population growth within drylands is occurring faster than growth in any other ecologic zone, which puts pressure on already stressed water resources. Because the availability of surface water supplies in drylands tends to be highly variable, many of these populations rely on groundwater, and are rapidly depleting these available resources. It is therefore important to quantify how much water is recharging aquifers in order to promote sustainable use.

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Ecohydrological role of biological soil crusts in drylands

October 19, 2017

Biocrust ImageAn interdisciplinary team of field ecologists and ecohydrology modelers led by Kristen Whitney studied the importance of biological soil crusts to soil water balance in drylands in their new paper published in Ecohydrology.

Scientists from ASU and USGS combined long-term field experiments and simulation modeling to show that biocrusts play a very important role in water cycling in arid ecosystems. Biocrusts can cover up to 70% of the soil surface in drylands. However, their competing effects on soil hydrologic conditions are rarely accounted for in models. This very interesting work shows how biocrusts of different levels of development exert significant and strong effects on most water cycle pathways. Highly developed biocrusts act as a stronger buffer to subsoil water losses via evapotranspiration.

This work not only contributes to the understanding of the water cycle in drylands but also shows the importance of interdisciplinary research through the use of complementary tools.

Read the full article.

Water Consumption and Sustainability in Arizona: A Tale of Two Desert Cities

View Source | September 28, 2017

South Mountain PhoenixIn a very interesting and thoughtful article, ASU Professor Paul Hirt and collaborators tackle the issue of a sustainable water supply for central Arizona.

After a holistic analysis of governmental, research and historic perspectives, they conclude that the long-term solution is on the demand side of the problem. A significant reduction in per capita water consumption and total water demand is needed to put Arizona‘s urban areas on the path to sustainability. Such reductions require psychological, behavioral and cultural changes that take a long time.

Hirt explains, “The task facing Arizona over the next century is to work just as concertedly and collaboratively and successfully on managing water demand—managing ourselves—to close the water demand-supply gap steadily and intentionally in a way that averts crises, protects environmental resources and advances justice, equity and sustainability.”