Texas Tech University

International Center for Arid and Semi-Arid Land Studies

The International Center for Arid and Semiarid Land Studies (ICASALS) at Texas Tech University was created in 1966 to promote the university's special mission of the interdisciplinary study of arid and semiarid environments and the human relationship to these environments from an international perspective. The purpose of ICASALS is to stimulate, coordinate and implement teaching, research, and public service activities concerning all aspects of the world's arid and semiarid regions, their people and their problems.

News of Interest

Tropical Ecology

A geospatial approach to assess climate change impact on soil organic carbon in a semi-arid region 

This study assesses the impact of climatic change on soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks over a semi-arid region of India (Medak district, Telangana) using remote sensing-based indices and geostatistical modeling. The global soil organic carbon (GSOC) stocks (0–30 cm depth) at 1 km spatial resolution and a set of environmental variables like normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), net primary productivity (NPP), slope, elevation, and various climate parameters such as rainfall, temperature, etc., were used to estimate the SOC stocks in current and future (2050 and 2070) climate change projections using regression kriging (RK) techniques. The findings reveal that among the environmental covariates, rainfall was the predominant factor that controls the SOC stocks in the study region. The uncertainties associated with the SOC prediction in various future climate change scenarios for the year 2050 and 2070 were in the range of 8.83–10.48% and 8.15–10.26% respectively. The study suggests such changes can adversely affect soil fertility by soil degradation and nutrient depletion which can hinder the growth and development of the crops which also aggravate food insecurity.

Global Ecology and Conservation

Adaptive traits of three dominant desert-steppe species under grazing-related degradation: Morphology, structure, and function 

Understanding the adaptative behaviors of dominant desert-steppe species under varying levels of grazing-related environmental degradation is an important step in elucidating the survival strategies and environmental response mechanisms of desert plants. This study investigates the adaptative traits of three dominant plant species (Stipa breviflora, Cleistogenes squarrosa, and Convolvulus ammannii) from the perspectives of plant morphology, leaf structure, and photosynthesis in the Xilamuren desert steppe in Northwest China. The results suggest that the morphological, structural, and functional adjustments of desert plants were related to the development of drought-resistance mechanisms through water-use strategies, including increased water absorption and water-use efficiency and decreased water consumption. These findings enrich the existing knowledge of the environmental adaptation mechanisms of dominant plants in desert steppes, providing a scientific basis for the restoration of desert steppe ecologies and the formulation of suitable grazing policies. 

Journal of Arid Environments

Physiological responses of Dipodomys merriami in grasslands and shrublands in the Chihuahuan Desert 

Overgrazing by livestock has changed the structure and dynamics of the ecosystem, and native species have developed physiological adaptations to survive these vegetation changes. The study evaluated the changes in packed cell volume (PCV) and plasma protein of Dipodomys merriami, Merriam's kangaroo rats, inhabiting shrubland and grassland areas at Mapimí Biosphere Reserve, Chihuahuan Desert, Mexico. Results indicated higher kangaroo rat packed cell volume in grassland than shrubland. However, the plasma protein/packed cell volume ratios were not significantly different between rats from both vegetation types, suggesting that an increase in PCV is a consequence of dehydration. This study concludes that monitoring the packed cell volume can be a useful and rapid screening tool to assess responses to changes in habitat degradation in arid areas.

Scientific Reports

Using satellite imagery to evaluate precontact Aboriginal foraging habitats in the Australian Western Desert 

Modern satellite imaging offers radical new insights of the challenges and opportunities confronting traditional Aboriginal ecology and land use in Australia's Western Desert. This study aims to model the likely dynamics of historic and precontact desert land use using Earth observation data to identify the distribution of suitable foraging habitats. Suitability was modelled for an ideal environmental scenario, based on satellite observations of maximal water abundance, vegetation greenness, and terrain ruggedness. Findings suggest that the highest-ranked foraging habitats do not align with land systems or bioregions that have been used in previous reconstructions of Australian prehistory. Results also show that impoverished desert areas where unsuitable foraging conditions have likely persisted since early in the last glacial cycle, and in which occupation would always have been rare. These findings help to reconsider past patterns of land use and the predicted archaeological signature of earlier desert peoples.

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