Toward an extreme world: The hyper-arid ecosystem as a natural model

Elli Groner, Avshalom Babad, Naomi Berda Swiderski, Moshe Shachak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The forecasted increased frequency and intensity of extreme climatic events may strongly affect ecosystem structure and function in the future. It is unclear how ecosystems will function in the long run over a large spatial scale under a new extreme water cycle. This open question calls for a conceptual framework as a fundamental basis for theoretical and experimental exploration of ecosystem function on a large scale driven by an extreme climate envelope. To assess the problem on a large scale, we investigated hyper-arid ecosystems (HAEs) as natural tangible models that already function under an extreme climatic envelope. Our new assertion is that if extreme climate change drives arid lands to function under alternate extreme conditions, then arid land ecosystems will function like an HAE as an alternative state, rather than progress to desertification. To support our assertion, we developed a conceptual framework of HAEs that includes a geo-hydrological “abiotic engine” that drives HAE function by soil moisture diversity and plant functional groups. Based on this conceptual framework, we suggest incorporating two new hypotheses in climate change studies to advance our understanding of responses of large-scale, water-limited ecosystems: (1) Hydro-climatic extremes in water-limited ecosystems will reduce the degree of resource conservation by slope ecosystems due to reduction in plant cover and soil. The decreased ecosystem function on the slope will be compensated for by increasing the effect of the abiotic engine on the ephemeral stream, thus enhancing meta-ecosystem functioning in the ephemeral stream. (2) In water-limited ecosystems, climate change toward hydro-climatic extremes will rescale the dominant hydro-ecological processes of pulse–reserve, source–sink, and connectivity along the semiarid, arid, and HA gradients in two ways: (i) shrinking of both spatial and temporal dimensions; and (ii) shrinking in the temporal dimension and expanding in the spatial dimensions. The first rescaling trajectory is related to biodiversity–ecosystem function and the second to the abiotic engine processes.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere4586
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2023


  • connectivity
  • desertification
  • eco-hydrology
  • source–sink
  • stream order

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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