Living with variability, coping with catastrophe: Comparing pastoralist strategies in the Pyrenees, Great Plains and Mongolia
Pastoralists often inhabit landscapes of high temporal and/or spatial variability and have evolved a suite of strategies to exploit variable conditions over space and time and respond to periodic extreme weather events. These strategies have been successful in sustaining pastoral social-ecological systems over centuries and in some cases millennia. Yet growing social complexities coupled with increasing frequency, magnitude or duration of extreme events call into question the future adaptive capacity of these systems. How are these changes affecting pastoral social-ecological systems in different biophysical and social contexts? How are pastoralists responding? What can we learn from comparative case studies of adaptive capacity in these systems, potential future transformations, and robust management and policy responses?
Data on pastoralist/rancher strategies were collected from three long-term case study sites where the author has worked for 3-20 years. Data collection included interviews and household surveys with pastoralists, meteorological and hydrological records, and synthesis of existing published sources. Comparative case studies were constructed focusing on the similarities and differences in stresses and drivers of change, and pastoralist responses, including traditional and innovative adaptive strategies.
Five major adaptive strategies were used by pastoralists to cope with spatial and temporal resource variability: storage, mobility, diversification, resource pooling and exchange/reciprocity. Case studies from pastoral systems on three continents with distinct socio-cultural contexts reveal many similarities as well as differences in the use of these strategies across the three systems, the challenges these systems face from combined stresses of climate and social changes, and how pastoralists are responding. The analysis highlights key vulnerabilities in each system, which often stem from the interdependence of pastoralist strategies, and the ways in which social complexity and climate change combine to create novel stresses. These findings inform recommendations for pastoral policy development and rangeland management under climate change in the 21st century.