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How Mongolian herders perceive ecological change in a “stable” landscape

Batdelger Gantuya, Botanic Garden and Research Institute, Mongolian Academy of Science, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Marianna Biró, Centre for Ecological Research, Institute of Ecology and Botany, Vácrátót, Hungary
Ábel Molnár, Hungarian University of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Doctoral School of Biological Sciences, Gödöllő, Hungary
Ákos Avar, Department of Mongolian and Inner Asian Studies, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary
Abolfazl Sharifian Bahraman, Department of Rangeland and Watershed Management, Gorgan University of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Gorgan, Iran
Dániel Babai, Institute of Ethnology, Research Centre for the Humanities, Budapest, Hungary
Zsolt Molnár, Centre for Ecological Research, Institute of Ecology and Botany, Vácrátót, Hungary


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Recently, climate change has had a considerable impact on rangelands, available forage, and shifting boundaries of ecological zones in Mongolia. Additionally, long-term studies in the forest-steppe zone show that increasing livestock pressure impacts vegetation composition and cover. Evidence shows that the traditional ecological knowledge of Mongolian herders can serve as a valuable body of information relevant to observations about these ongoing ecological processes. Among other things, a deeper understanding of how herders perceive ecological changes would be useful for improving pasture management and promoting natural regeneration processes.
We conducted indoor and outdoor structured and semi-structured interviews, with additional landscape walks and participatory fieldwork. In total we interviewed 33 people, all full-time herders.
We found 32 indicators on how herders perceived landscape and vegetation changes for the 14 habitat types studied. Herders had deep knowledge of their landscape, and they attributed various changes to diverse drivers on their grasslands, wetlands, and forests. Among herders there was variation in the perceived importance of droughts and increasing livestock numbers. The perceived changes and indicators could be grouped into three main categories, namely long-term (decadal) trends, regenerative successions after disturbance, and recurrent fluctuations caused mainly by weather. Some of the long-term trends reported by herders are well-known, e.g., worsening of rangeland production, others, like the blackening of tussocks, or the impact of oilskin on yurt site regeneration, are rarely mentioned in the scientific literature, if at all. South-facing mountain slopes and flat areas in valleys were reported as the locations where vegetation change takes place most rapidly.
To reverse adverse changes, herders wish to cooperate especially with each other to increase mobility, stop overgrazing, and help nature to regenerate their worsening pastures. We conclude that herders have a reliable and widely shared understanding of landscape and pasture changes that could help with this cooperation.

Key words

forest-steppe; indicators; landscape changes; perception; regeneration; succession; traditional ecological knowledge; trends

Copyright © 2021 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087