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Anticipating Vulnerability to Climate Change in Dryland Pastoral Systems: Using Dynamic Systems Models for the Kalahari

Andrew J Dougill, University of Leeds
Evan D.G. Fraser, University of Leeds
Mark S. Reed, University of Aberdeen


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It is vitally important to identify agroecosystems that may cease functioning because of changing climate or land degradation. However, identifying such systems is confounded on both conceptual and methodological grounds, especially in systems that are moving toward thresholds, a common trait of dryland environments. This study explores these challenges by analyzing how a range of external pressures affect the vulnerability of dryland pastoral systems in the Kalahari. This is achieved by employing dynamic systems modeling approaches to understand the pathways by which communities became vulnerable to drought. Specifically, we evaluate how external pressures have changed: (1) different agroecosystems' abilities to tolerate drought, i.e., ecosystem resilience; (2) rural communities’ abilities to adapt to drought, mediated via their access to assets; and (3) the ability of institutions and policy interventions to play a role in mediating drought-related crises, i.e., socio-political governance. This is done by reanalyzing ecological and participatory research findings along with farm-scale livestock offtake data from across the Kalahari in Botswana. An iterative process was followed to establish narratives exploring how external drivers led to changes in agroecosystem resilience, access to assets, and the institutional capacity to buffer the system. We use “causal loop diagrams” and statistical dynamic system models to express key quantitative relationships and establish future scenarios to help define where uncertainties lie by showing where the system is most sensitive to change. We highlight how that greater sharing of land management knowledge and practices between private and communal land managers can provide ‘win-win-win’ benefits of reducing system vulnerability, increasing economic income, and building social capital. We use future scenario analyses to identify key areas for future studies of climate change adaptation across the Kalahari.

Key words

Botswana; climate change; drought sensitivity; dynamic systems modelling; Kalahari; pastoral farming; vulnerability pathways

Copyright © 2010 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