Natural infrastructure in dryland streams (NIDS) can establish regenerative wetland sinks that reverse desertification and strengthen climate resilience

Laura M. Norman, Rattan Lal, Ellen Wohl, Emily Fairfax, Allen C. Gellis, Michael M. Pollock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


In this article we describe the natural hydrogeomorphological and biogeochemical cycles of dryland fluvial ecosystems that make them unique, yet vulnerable to land use activities and climate change. We introduce Natural Infrastructure in Dryland Streams (NIDS), which are structures naturally or anthropogenically created from earth, wood, debris, or rock that can restore implicit function of these systems. This manuscript further discusses the capability of and functional similarities between beaver dams and anthropogenic NIDS, documented by decades of scientific study. In addition, we present the novel, evidence-based finding that NIDS can create wetlands in water-scarce riparian zones, with soil organic carbon stock as much as 200 to 1400 Mg C/ha in the top meter of soil. We identify the key restorative action of NIDS, which is to slow the drainage of water from the landscape such that more of it can infiltrate and be used to facilitate natural physical, chemical, and biological processes in fluvial environments. Specifically, we assert that the rapid drainage of water from such environments can be reversed through the restoration of natural infrastructure that once existed. We then explore how NIDS can be used to restore the natural biogeochemical feedback loops in these systems. We provide examples of how NIDS have been used to restore such feedback loops, the lessons learned from installation of NIDS in the dryland streams of the southwestern United States, how such efforts might be scaled up, and what the implications are for mitigating climate change effects. Our synthesis portrays how restoration using NIDS can support adaptation to and protection from climate-related disturbances and stressors such as drought, water shortages, flooding, heatwaves, dust storms, wildfire, biodiversity losses, and food insecurity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number157738
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Nov 25 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: Funding for this paper was provided through the Aridland Water Harvesting Study , part of the Land Change Science Program, in the Core Science Systems Mission Area of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022


  • Beaver dam analogs
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Ecosystem services
  • Nature-based solutions
  • Rock detention structures

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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