The Rangeland Journal The Rangeland Journal Society
Rangeland ecology and management
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Patterns of herders’ adaptation to changes in social–ecological systems across northern China’s grasslands over the past three decades

Xiliang Li A , Yong Ding A , Yanting Yin A , Tingting Yang A , Zhiying Liu B D , Weibo Ren A , JiangLi Zhang C , Sarula A , Yuanheng Li A and Xiangyang Hou A D
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Key Laboratory of Grassland Ecology and Restoration of Ministry of Agriculture, National Forage Improvement Centre, Institute of Grassland Research, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Hohhot 010010, PR China.

B Inner Mongolia Key Laboratory of Grassland Ecology, College of Ecology and Environment, Inner Mongolia University, Hohhot 010021, PR China.

C Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing 100081, PR China.

D Corresponding authors. Email: zyliu567@imu.edu.cn; houxy16@vip.126.com

The Rangeland Journal 39(4) 317-328 https://doi.org/10.1071/RJ16070
Submitted: 28 July 2016  Accepted: 19 July 2017   Published: 10 August 2017

Abstract

Understanding the changes in herders’ adaptation to environmental change can provide insight into humans’ adaptive mechanisms to different social–ecological systems, and is also important for the optimal management of grasslands. However, the existing and emerging patterns of herders’ adaptation to changes in social–ecological systems across different types of grasslands are poorly understood. This paper presents a systematic participatory investigation that was conducted to comprehensively understand herders’ adaptation in this context over the past three decades. Three counties in Inner Mongolia grasslands were selected as the case study sites, located in meadow steppe, typical steppe and desert steppe respectively. Our results indicate that herders’ perceptions partly fit with the reality of the actual changes. The majority of herders attributed their pasture’s quality degradation to reduced precipitation rather than overgrazing, a contradictory perception to previous scientific observations (overgrazing > climate change). Moreover, herders’ behaviour in relation to herbage storage and livestock structure had dramatically changed in terms of spatial and temporal patterns in Inner Mongolia, which benefited herders in production efficiency. Lambing time of sheep and goats occurred earlier than it did several decades ago across the three grassland types. This was attributed to a rise in temperature, increasing marketisation and developing infrastructure. In addition, there became evident a transformation in the animal husbandry production cycle from a two-year to one-year cycle. Our results highlighted that the transformation of herders’ behavioural strategies resulted from variations in spatial and temporal patterns of climate change, pasture degradation, new policies and marketisation in pastoral areas. These strategies can be seen as key mechanisms in long-term adaptation to changes in social–ecological systems, which benefit herders’ efficiency in grassland management.

Additional keywords: climate change, herdsmen’s behaviour, grassland management, Inner Mongolia.


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