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We discuss a new conceptual framework for arid and semi-arid systems that accounts for nonlinear dynamics and cross scale interactions in explaining landscape patterns and dynamics. Our framework includes a spatial and temporal hierarchy, and five key interacting components that connect scales of the hierarchy and generate threshold behaviors: (1) historical legacies that include climate, disturbance, and management regimes, (2) dynamic template of patterns in ecological variables and spatial context, (3) vertical and horizontal transport processes (fluvial, aeolian, animal), (4) rate, direction, and amount of resource redistribution between high and low resource areas, and (5) feedbacks among plants, animals, and...