Greening the desert: What can we learn from the Chinese dryland restoration projects?

Drylands cover about 40% of the planet, host one third of the world population and are one of the most susceptible ecosystems to environmental degradation. How to effectively restore drylands is a main concern for scientists, policy-makers and communities worldwide. Chinese drylands offer one of the most impressive examples of vegetation collapse followed by large-scale restoration projects.

We use a combination of remote sensing and field surveys to assess vegetation changes in a series of restoration programs conducted in the three largest dryland systems of China. We have found significant increases in vegetation cover and diversity in restored sites. Using vegetation spatial patterns, we have derived several early warning indicators that successfully forecast the transition process from bare to vegetated lands. These landscape-scale projects demonstrate that active restoration of drylands can successfully contribute to recover important ecosystem functions.