Rocky desertification in Southwest China: Impacts, causes, and restoration


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May 2014


Rocky desertification, which is relatively less well known than desertification, refers to the processes and human activities that transform a karst area covered by vegetation and soil into a rocky landscape. It has occurred in various countries and regions, including the European Mediterranean and Dinaric Karst regions of the Balkan Peninsula, Southwest China on a large scale, and alarmingly, even in tropical rainforests such as Haiti and Barbados, and has had tremendous negative impacts to the environment and social and economic conditions at local and regional scales. The goal of this paper is to provide a thorough review of the impacts, causes, and restoration measures of rocky desertification based on decades of studies in the southwest karst area of China and reviews of studies in Europe and other parts of the world. The low soil formation rate and high permeability of carbonate rocks create a fragile and vulnerable environment that is susceptible to deforestation and soil erosion. Other natural processes related to hydrology and ecology could exacerbate rocky desertification. However, disturbances from a wide variety of human activities are ultimately responsible for rocky desertification wherever it has occurred. This review shows that reforestation can be successful in Southwest China and even in the Dinaric Karst region when the land, people, water, and other resources are managed cohesively. However, new challenges may arise as more frequent droughts and extreme floods induced by global climate change and variability may slow the recovery process or even expand rocky desertification. This review is intended to bring attention to this challenging issue and provide information needed to advance research and engineering practices to combat rocky desertification and to aid in sustainable development.


Rocky Desertification, Karst, Environmental Impact, Economic Impact, Ecosystem Restoration, Southwest China

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Earth-Science Reviews, Vol. 132 (2014-05-01).