Strengthening Resilience of Arid Region Riparian Corridors
Ecohydrology and Decision-Making in the Sonora and San Pedro Watersheds
Supported by the National Science Foundation’s Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human (CNH) Systems Program
Viewed from the air, riparian corridors in arid regions are the narrow ribbons of trees along streams that shelter some of the most important biodiversity in the landscape. The combination of climate change, human withdrawals of water, and land use decisions threaten streamflow and shallow groundwater so crucial to these corridors.
Linked biophysical and societal stresses can push riparian systems across critical thresholds (tipping points beyond which return to earlier conditions is unlikely), resulting in loss of broader social-ecological resilience; that is, the capacity of systems to retain essential functions, including provision of water and other ecosystem services.
The project’s goal is to better understand how combined and interlinked changes in social and natural conditions and processes affects the resilience of riparian systems and, by extension, the ecosystem services these systems provide.
Research focuses on two adjacent river systems: the Upper San Pedro River, flowing northward from Sonora, Mexico into Arizona in the United States, and the Upper Sonora River, flowing south within Sonora. The research involves creation of an “agent-based model” to translate complex interactions among environmental conditions, societal rules, and human practices into potential changes to the riparian corridors under study.
The research will answer critical questions about (a) identifying and measuring coupled human and ecological processes in riparian systems; (b) responses of riparian systems to stresses; (c) how thresholds are identified and how crossing thresholds can be assessed; and (d) the implications for similar systems elsewhere.
An international research team led by the University of Arizona will produce new techniques for modeling social-ecological interactions in riparian corridors.
The project will provide new opportunities for stakeholders at all levels (from officials managing natural resources to individuals visiting riparian corridors) to use science-based tools for informed decision-making. The research will transform the ways that science and technology stimulate social learning, while enhancing K-12, university, and public education.
Innovations developed in this project will provide inspiration for research and development in a wide array of interacting social-environmental contexts.