- A continuum model for vegetation patterns in water limited systems is presented. The model involves two variables, the vegetation biomass density and the soil water density, and takes into account positive feedback relations between the two. The model predicts transitions from bare-soil at low precipitation to homogeneous vegetation at high precipitation through intermediate states of spot, stripe and gap patterns. It also predicts the appearance of ring-like shapes as transient forms toward asymptotic stripes. All these patterns have been identified in observations made on two types of perennial grasses in the Northern Negev. Another prediction of the model is the existence of wide precipitation ranges where different stable states coexist, e.g. a bare soil state and a spot pattern, a spot pattern and a stripe pattern, and so on. This result suggests the interpretation of desertification followed by recovery as an hysteresis loop and sheds light on the irreversibility of desertification. 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.