Assessing the resilience of a real-world social-ecological system: lessons from a multidisciplinary evaluation of a South African pastoral system
Anja Linstädter, Range Ecology and Management Group, Botanical Institute, University of Cologne; Crop Science Group, Institute of Crop Science and Resource Conservation, University of Bonn
Arnim Kuhn, Institute for Food and Resource Economics, University of Bonn
Christiane Naumann, Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology, University of Cologne
Sebastian Rasch, Institute for Food and Resource Economics, University of Bonn
Alexandra Sandhage-Hofmann, Soil Science and Soil Ecology Group, Institute of Crop Science and Resource Conservation, University of Bonn
Wulf Amelung, Soil Science and Soil Ecology Group, Institute of Crop Science and Resource Conservation, University of Bonn
Jorrie Jordaan, Department of Plant Production, Soil Science and Agricultural Engineering, University of Limpopo
Chris C. Du Preez, Department of Soil, Crop and Climate Sciences, University of the Free State
Michael Bollig, Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology, University of Cologne
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In the past decades, social-ecological systems (SESs) worldwide have undergone dramatic transformations with often detrimental consequences for livelihoods. Although resilience thinking offers promising conceptual frameworks to understand SES transformations, empirical resilience assessments of real-world SESs are still rare because SES complexity requires integrating knowledge, theories, and approaches from different disciplines. Taking up this challenge, we empirically assess the resilience of a South African pastoral SES to drought using various methods from natural and social sciences. In the ecological subsystem, we analyze rangelands’ ability to buffer drought effects on forage provision, using soil and vegetation indicators. In the social subsystem, we assess households’ and communities’ capacities to mitigate drought effects, applying agronomic and institutional indicators and benchmarking against practices and institutions in traditional pastoral SESs. Our results indicate that a decoupling of livelihoods from livestock-generated income was initiated by government interventions in the 1930s. In the post-apartheid phase, minimum-input strategies of herd management were adopted, leading to a recovery of rangeland vegetation due to unintentionally reduced stocking densities. Because current livelihood security is mainly based on external monetary resources (pensions, child grants, and disability grants), household resilience to drought is higher than in historical phases. Our study is one of the first to use a truly multidisciplinary resilience assessment. Conflicting results from partial assessments underline that measuring narrow indicator sets may impede a deeper understanding of SES transformations. The results also imply that the resilience of contemporary, open SESs cannot be explained by an inward-looking approach because essential connections and drivers at other scales have become relevant in the globalized world. Our study thus has helped to identify pitfalls in empirical resilience assessment and to improve the conceptualization of SES dynamics.
drought; empirical resilience assessment; globalization; institutions; monetary resources; pastoralism; rangelands; social-ecological system
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