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  1. Abstract This paper synthesizes the contemporary challenges for the sustainability of the social-environmental system (SES) across a geographically, environmentally, and geopolitically diverse region—the Asian Drylands Belt (ADB). This region includes 18 political entities, covering 10.3% of global land area and 30% of total global drylands. At the present time, the ADB is confronted with a unique set of environmental and socioeconomic changes including water shortage-related environmental challenges and dramatic institutional changes since the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The SES of the ADB is assessed using a conceptual framework rooted in the three pillars of sustainability science: social, economic, and ecological systems. The complex dynamics are explored with biophysical, socioeconomic, institutional, and local context-dependent mechanisms with a focus on institutions and land use and land cover change (LULCC) as important drivers of SES dynamics. This paper also discusses the following five pressing, practical challenges for the sustainability of the ADB SES: (a) reduced water quantity and quality under warming, drying, and escalating extreme events, (b) continued, if not intensifying, geopolitical conflicts, (c) volatile, uncertain, and shifting socioeconomic structures, (d) globalization and cross-country influences, and (e) intensification and shifts in LULCC. To meet the varied challenges across themore »region, place-based, context-dependent transdisciplinary approaches are needed to focus on the human-environment interactions within and between regional landscapes with explicit consideration of specific forcings and regulatory mechanisms. Future work focused on this region should also assess the role of the following mechanisms that may moderate SES dynamics: socioeconomic regulating mechanisms, biophysical regulating mechanisms, regional and national institutional regulating mechanisms, and localized institutional regulating mechanisms.« less
  2. Evidence for global insect declines mounts, increasing our need to understand underlying mechanisms. We test the nutrient dilution (ND) hypothesis—the decreasing concentration of essential dietary minerals with increasing plant productivity—that particularly targets insect herbivores. Nutrient dilution can result from increased plant biomass due to climate or CO2enrichment. Additionally, when considering long-term trends driven by climate, one must account for large-scale oscillations including El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), and Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). We combine long-term datasets of grasshopper abundance, climate, plant biomass, and end-of-season foliar elemental content to examine potential drivers of abundance cycles and trends of this dominant herbivore. Annual grasshopper abundances in 16- and 22-y time series from a Kansas prairie revealed both 5-y cycles and declines of 2.1–2.7%/y. Climate cycle indices of spring ENSO, summer NAO, and winter or spring PDO accounted for 40–54% of the variation in grasshopper abundance, mediated by effects of weather and host plants. Consistent with ND, grass biomass doubled and foliar concentrations of N, P, K, and Na—nutrients which limit grasshopper abundance—declined over the same period. The decline in plant nutrients accounted for 25% of the variation in grasshopper abundance over two decades. Thus a warming, wetter, moremore »CO2-enriched world will likely contribute to declines in insect herbivores by depleting nutrients from their already nutrient-poor diet. Unlike other potential drivers of insect declines—habitat loss, light and chemical pollution—ND may be widespread in remaining natural areas.

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  3. Abstract. Relationships between land use and water quality are complex with interdependencies, feedbacks, and legacy effects. Most river water quality studies have assessed catchment land use as areal coverage, but here, we hypothesize and test whether land use intensity – the inputs (fertilizer, livestock) and activities (vegetation removal) of land use – is a better predictor of environmental impact. We use New Zealand (NZ) as a case study because it has had one of the highest rates of agricultural land intensification globally over recent decades. We interpreted water quality state and trends for the 26 years from 1989 to 2014 in the National Rivers Water Quality Network (NRWQN) – consisting of 77 sites on 35 mostly large river systems. To characterize land use intensity, we analyzed spatial and temporal changes in livestock density and land disturbance (i.e., bare soil resulting from vegetation loss by either grazing or forest harvesting) at the catchment scale, as well as fertilizer inputs at the national scale. Using simple multivariate statistical analyses across the 77 catchments, we found that median visual water clarity was best predicted inversely by areal coverage of intensively managed pastures. The primary predictor for all four nutrient variables (TN, NOx, TP, DRP), however, wasmore »cattle density, with plantation forest coverage as the secondary predictor variable. While land disturbance was not itself a strong predictor of water quality, it did help explain outliers of land use–water quality relationships. From 1990 to 2014, visual clarity significantly improved in 35 out of 77 (34∕77) catchments, which we attribute mainly to increased dairy cattle exclusion from rivers (despite dairy expansion) and the considerable decrease in sheep numbers across the NZ landscape, from 58 million sheep in 1990 to 31 million in 2012. Nutrient concentrations increased in many of NZ's rivers with dissolved oxidized nitrogen significantly increasing in 27∕77 catchments, which we largely attribute to increased cattle density and legacy nutrients that have built up on intensively managed grasslands and plantation forests since the 1950s and are slowly leaking to the rivers. Despite recent improvements in water quality for some NZ rivers, these legacy nutrients and continued agricultural intensification are expected to pose broad-scale environmental problems for decades to come.

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