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Keywords:

  • albedo;
  • alternative stable states;
  • atmosphere–vegetation interactions;
  • climate;
  • semiarid regions;
  • turing patterns

Abstract

It has been hypothesized that a positive feedback between vegetation cover and monsoon circulation may lead to the existence of two alternative stable states in the Sahara region: a vegetated state with moderate precipitation and a desert state with low precipitation. This could explain the sudden onset of desertification in the region about 5000 years ago. However, other models suggest that the effect of vegetation on the precipitation may be insufficient to produce this behavior. Here, we show that inclusion of the microscale feedback between soil and vegetation in the model greatly amplifies the nonlinearity, causing alternative stable states and considerable hysteresis even if the effect of vegetation on precipitation is moderate. On the other hand, our analysis suggests that self-organized vegetation patterns known from models that only focus at the microscale plant–soil feedback will be limited to a narrower range of conditions due to the regional scale climate-feedback. This implies that in monsoon areas such as the Western Sahara self-organized vegetation patterns are predicted to be less common than in areas without monsoon circulation such as Central Australia.