Connecting biodiversity conservation in dryland landscapes

Drylands cover 41% of our land area and host a wide array of biodiversity, much of which is endemic and is uniquely adapted to dryland conditions of low humidity and high climatic uncertainty. Conserving this biodiversity presents particular challenges of scale and requires connectivity across vast landscapes. This in turn requires equitable partnerships between conservation agencies and the communities who manage and depend on dryland natural resources, enabling them to pursue land use strategies that contribute to conservation.




Photo: Clara Herreros Murueta-Goyena / IUCN


One third of the human population lives in the drylands, many of whom are dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods and have a vested interest in dryland conservation and sustainable use. In addition, dryland biodiversity is valued beyond their borders, for example by migratory species that periodically rely on dryland habitat, or by people who depend on ecosystem services such as water and nutrient cycling, and erosion and fire prevention. Even services such as climate regulation are of global value, although they are frequently taken for granted and are not compensated.
Traditional natural resource management strategies found in the drylands are usually well adapted to local conditions and often conserve biodiversity. As a result, these management strategies can make a valuable contribution to dryland conservation, operating over a much greater area than state-managed protected areas. Supporting conservation through local land management practices also has the advantages of raising equity, building on local knowledge and expertise and connecting other types of protected area.

Productivity of Drylands by area unit tends to be low, so they are considered marginal lands. In these areas, high intensity uses do not make sense, but inhabitants have developed low-intensity strategies that harness the vast areas and short production periods of the drylands in order to obtain high-value products, many of which are a result of extraordinary natural adaptations to harsh conditions. Biodiversity often plays a key role in shaping these resources, so its conservation is fundamental to render Dryland livelihoods functional. Sustainable production practices include mobile pastoralism, agroforestry and low-tillage agriculture, and they are invariably based on multifunctional understandings of landscapes where several simultaneous and diverse uses are possible.

Traditional patterns of biodiversity use and governance make Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs) a particularly important conservation strategy. ICCAs can include areas that communities explicitly protect against use (e.g. sacred sites) as well as areas that communities protect through sustainable use (e.g. forest patches or dry season grazing zones). Sustainable production practices that contribute to biodiversity conservation in the drylands include mobile pastoralism, agroforestry and low-tillage agriculture. These food production systems are more closely tuned to natural ecosystems than more intensive forms of agricultural and they often reinforce ecosystem functions such as water cycling and nutrient formation. IUCN’s matrix approach of protected area governance provides a tool for recognising, validating, legitimising and strengthening different types of ICCA.

This strategic priority will strengthen policy and practice for greater connectivity between landscape patches and land-use types and will generate greater recognition of and compensation for the diverse ecosystem services they provide. Through this strategic priority the Global Drylands Initiative will contribute to IUCN’s collective effort towards the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the CBD Programme of Work on Dry and Sub Humid Lands.

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