Using a meta-analytical research design, we analyzed subnational case studies (n = 132) on the causes of dryland degradation, also referred to as desertification, to determine whether the proximate causes and underlying driving forces fall into any pattern and to identify mediating factors, feedback mechanisms, cross-scalar dynamics, and typical pathways of dryland ecosystem change. Our results show that desertification is driven by a limited suite of recurrent core variables, of which the most prominent at the underlying level are climatic factors, economic factors, institutions, national policies, population growth, and remote influences. At the proximate level, these factors drive cropland expansion, overgrazing, and infrastructure extension. Identifiable regional patterns of synergies among causal factors, in combination with feedback mechanisms and regional land-use and environmental histories, make up specific pathways of land change for each region and time period. Understanding these pathways is crucial for appropriate policy interventions, which have to be fine-tuned to the region-specific dynamic patterns associated with desertification.
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Vol. 54 • No. 9