The University of Arizona

Sahelian rangeland development; a catastrophe?

M. Rietkerk, P. Ketner, L. Stroosnijder, H.H.T. Prins


This paper sets out that the dynamics of the Sahelian rangeland vegetation can be interpreted as a cusp catastrophe and that this interpretation offers a promising basis for the description and analysis of this ecosystem. Firstly, an existing scheme of the dynamics of Sahelian herbaceous vegetation is translated into the state-and-transition formulation. Secondly, the application of the cusp catastrophe is explored by studying the behaviour of the Sahelian rangeland ecosystem under changing effective rainfall and grazing intensity, using the transitions from the state-and-transition formulation as vectors along the cusp manifold. This conceptual cusp catastrophe model subsequently results in the identification of hypotheses and the detection of 5 catastrophic properties of this ecosystem (bimodality, inaccessibility, sudden jumps, divergence and hysteresis) that have important management implications. The continuous and the discontinuous processes occurring in the Sahelian rangeland ecosystem can both be captured in a unified conceptual model by applying the cusp catastrophe theory. Testing the hypotheses generated by the conceptual model and searching for additional catastrophic properties, such as divergence of linear response and critical slowing down, is a useful direction for future research.


Sahel;ecological balance;annuals;semiarid grasslands;mathematical models;perennials;rain;grazing intensity;plant communities;rangelands;forage

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