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Resilience of small-scale societies: a view from drylands

Andrea L Balbo, Research Group Climate Change and Security (CLISEC), Institute of Geography, Center for Earth System Research and Sustainability (CEN), University of Hamburg; Complexity and Socio-Ecological dynamics (CaSEs), Instituciů Milŗ i Fontanals, Spanish National Research Council (IMF-CSIC)
Erik Gůmez-Baggethun, Department of International Environment and Development Studies, Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU); Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA)
Matthieu Salpeteur, Institut de CiŤncia i Tecnologia Ambientals, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB), Edifici C Campus de la UAB; ERAAUB, Dept PrehistÚria, HistÚria Antiga i Arqueologia, Universitat de Barcelona
Arnald Puy, Institute of Geography, University of Cologne; Maritime Civilizations Department, Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies, University of Haifa
Stefano Biagetti, Complexity and Socio-Ecological dynamics (CaSEs), Spain; Departament d'Humanitats, Universitat Pompeu Fabra; School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies (GAES), University of the Witwatersrand
JŁrgen Scheffran, Research Group Climate Change and Security (CLISEC), Institute of Geography, Center for Earth System Research and Sustainability (CEN), University of Hamburg


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To gain insights on long-term social-ecological resilience, we examined adaptive responses of small-scale societies to dryland-related hazards in different regions and chronological periods, spanning from the mid-Holocene to the present. Based on evidence from Africa (Sahara and Sahel), Asia (south margin of the Thar desert), and Europe (South Spain), we discuss key traits and coping practices of small-scale societies that are potentially relevant for building resilience. The selected case studies illustrate four main coping mechanisms: mobility and migration, storage, commoning, and collective action driven by religious beliefs. Ultimately, the study of resilience in the context of drylands emphasizes the importance of adaptive traits and practices that are distinctive of small-scale societies: a strong social-ecological coupling, a solid body of traditional ecological knowledge, and a high degree of internal cohesion and self-organization.

Key words

adaptation; climate change; coping mechanisms; drylands; resilience; social-ecological systems; sustainability; traditional ecological knowledge

Copyright © 2016 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