Landscape sustainability science in the drylands: mobility, rangelands and livelihoods

Chuan Liao, Arun Agrawal, Patrick E. Clark, Simon A. Levin, Daniel I. Rubenstein

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Context: The global drylands cover 41% of the terrestrial surface and support millions of pastoralists and host diverse flora and fauna. Ongoing socioeconomic and environmental transformations in drylands make it imperative to understand how to achieve the twin goals of food security and ecosystem health. Objectives: The review focuses on examining the patterns of rangeland vegetation dynamics and livelihood transformations associated with changes in pastoralist mobility. Methods: We conducted a comprehensive review of literature on dryland sustainability based on the coupled systems framework and through the lens of mobility, which reflects not only human and livestock movements but also the unique lifestyles and cultural identities of people in drylands. Results: We find that mobility, which is critical for pastoralists to survive and thrive in the drylands, is generally in decline and has significant implications on dryland sustainability. Reduced mobility exacerbates bush encroachment and land degradation, as sedentarized pastoralists use the rangelands more recursively. Associated with declining mobility is livelihood intensification and diversification, but such livelihood transitions may carry both socioeconomic and environmental risks. Conclusions: We argue that to advance landscape sustainability science and reconcile concerns over environmental conservation and human well-being across the global drylands, we must better understand the underlying mechanisms of coupled systems transitions through the lens of mobility, and integrate the perspectives of multiple stakeholders with fundamentally different interests and priorities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2433-2447
Number of pages15
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


  • Dryland
  • Landscape sustainability
  • Livelihoods
  • Mobility
  • Rangeland


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