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Abstract

A model of ecosystem degradation and three possible responses to it—restoration, rehabilitation, and real-location—is applied to ongoing projects in the arid mediterranean region of southern Tunisia, the subhumid mediterranean region of central Chile, and the semiarid tropical savannas of northern Cameroon. We compare both nonhuman and human determinants of ecosystem degradation processes in these contrasted regions, as well as interventions being tested in each. A number of quantifiable “vital ecosystem attributes” are used to evaluate the effects of ecosystem degradation and the experimental responses of rehabilitation on vegetation, soils and plant-soil-water relations. We argue that attempts to rehabilitate former ecosystem structure and functioning, both above- and below ground, are the best way to conserve biodiversity and insure sustainable long-term productivity in ecosystems subjected to continuous use by people in arid and semi-arid lands of “the South.” The success of such efforts, however, depends not only on elucidating the predisturbance (or slightly disturbed) structure and function of the consciously selected “ecosystem of reference,” but also on understanding and working with the socioeconomic, technical, cultural, and historical factors that caused the degradation in the first place.