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ALRS alumni publish article about recent changes in landscape, livelihood, and climate in Mexico’s Sonoran Desert

A team of ALRS alumni and associated faculty, lead by recent graduate, Dr. Ryan Lee, had their research published in Journal of Arid Environments. The article, “Spatio-temporal dynamics of climate change, land degradation, and water insecurity in an arid rangeland: The Río San Miguel watershed, Sonora, Mexico,” tells how ecosystems and livelihood are impacted by agricultural, landscape, and climatic changes. The article also presents novel analysis and insight into contemporary changes to landcover, climate, and the North American monsoon. The other alumni members include Dr. America Lutz Ley and Dr. Alan Navarro-Navarro.

"This research is important for people in arid ranching communities to understand how their actions and decisions impact the environment and foster long-term consequences for their well-being and development, “ said co-author Dr. América Lutz Ley, an ALRS alumnus and professor at Mexico’s College of Sonora. 

The research, primarily supported by the National Science Foundation’s coupled natural-human systems program, and focused on Sonoran Desert watersheds, in general, relied on a large team of interdisciplinary and international researchers. The team worked together to investigate different aspects of how ecosystems and human communities are affected by water management and other hydraulic changes. Other researchers and principle investigators came from social, physical, and computer science disciplines across campus, Mexico, and Europe. The article’s co-authors and contributors drew from this team as well on the expertise of researchers unaffiliated with the NSF grant. 

“Addressing complex, inter-linked environmental and socio-economic problems requires multi-faceted understandings,” said Dr. Lee, “and then the ability to work and communicate across them in scientifically meaningful ways, but also in ways that are meaningful for resource managers and users. This meant extending the circle of expertise beyond just those associated with the grant. That collaborators extended beyond those on the grant is reflective of a campus culture that understands solving complex problems requires collaboration. The ALRS program put me in a position regarding knowledge, skills, and opportunity to work across disciplines and bring together this diverse team of experts.”  

The article has important useful lessons for sustainable development and natural resources management, especially in regards to how livelihood and water security are affected by environmental changes. Many of the environmental changes observed in the article are human driven and expected to become more widespread and common globally. The need to manage for increasing drought and lessening resources is relevant beyond the Sonoran Desert’s borders, especially in places where people’s livelihood and well-being is closely connected to a particular resource’s sustainable use. The article is an example of cutting-edge interdisciplinary research meant to solve 21st century challenges. Satellite imagery, weather stations, stream gages, participatory mapping, computer code, and cross-cultural interaction are used as data sources and analytic tools. The article balances knowledge and inquiry about broad, large scale changes with relevant, useful actions for decision-makers, managers, and people on the ground. 

“Sure the article has novel findings about climate, monsoonal and landscape changes, and their impact on rural water security and economy,” said Dr. Lee, “but the most meaningful and rewarding part of this research was when the ranchers thanked us. Thanked us for sharing knowledge. Thanked us for helping them link it to decision-making. Telling us our work with them is helpful, important.”

Lee, Ryan H., Luis Alan Navarro-Navarro, América Lutz Ley, Kyle Hartfield, Douglas R. Tolleson, and Christopher A. Scott. “Spatio-Temporal Dynamics of Climate Change, Land Degradation, and Water Insecurity in an Arid Rangeland: The Río San Miguel Watershed, Sonora, Mexico.” Journal of Arid Environments 193 (October 2021): 104539. 


















Last updated 29 Sep 2021