Modelled responses of the Kalahari Desert to 21 st century climate and land use change

Sci Rep. 2017 Jun 20;7(1):3887. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-04341-0.


Drylands are home to over 2 billion people globally, many of whom use the land for agricultural and pastoral activities. These vulnerable livelihoods could be disrupted if desert dunefields become more active in response to climate and land use change. Despite increasing knowledge about the role that wind, moisture availability and vegetation cover play in shaping dryland landscapes, relatively little is known about how drylands might respond to climatic and population pressures over the 21st century. Here we use a newly developed numerical model, which fully couples vegetation and sediment-transport dynamics, to simulate potential landscape evolution at three locations in the Kalahari Desert, under two future emissions scenarios: stabilising (RCP 4.5) and high (RCP 8.5). Our simulations suggest that whilst our study sites will experience some climatically-induced landscape change, the impacts of climate change alone on vegetation cover and sediment mobility may be relatively small. However, human activity could strongly exacerbate certain landscape trajectories. Fire frequency has a primary impact on vegetation cover, and, together with grazing pressure, plays a significant role in modulating shrub encroachment and ensuing land degradation processes. Appropriate land management strategies must be implemented across the Kalahari Desert to avoid severe environmental and socio-economic consequences over the coming decades.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't