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Desertification in the Sahel: a reinterpretation of a reinterpretation


Stephen D. Prince, tel. +1 301 405 4062, fax +1 301 314 9299, e-mail:


In semiarid regions the ratio of annual net primary production to precipitation, rain-use efficiency (RUE), has been used as an index of desertification. In a recent publication (Hein & de Ridder, 2006) it was proposed that an incorrect understanding of the relationship between RUE and rainfall has led to a misinterpretation of the satellite record of desertification in the African Sahel. Here, we examine this suggestion and show that, contrary to Hein and de Ridder's statement, satellite studies of Sahelian RUE have reported increases, decreases, and constant values since 1981. Furthermore, we find that data do not support their proposal that RUE increases with rainfall, even in nondegraded areas. Hence we reject their corollary, that constant RUE is prima facie evidence of desertification. The fundamental difficulty with the use of RUE for detection of desertification remains, that is the difficulty of estimation of the RUE for nondegraded land at a regional scale.

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