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Climate change, cattle, and the challenge of sustainability in a telecoupled system in Africa

Tara S. Easter, Human-Environment Systems Center, Boise State University
Alexander K. Killion, Human-Environment Systems Center, Boise State University; Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, Boise State University
Neil H. Carter, Human-Environment Systems Center, Boise State University


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Information, energy, and materials are flowing over greater distances than in the past, changing the structure and feedbacks within and across coupled human and natural systems worldwide. The telecoupling framework was recently developed to understand the feedbacks and multidirectional flows characterizing social and environmental interactions between distant systems. We extend the application of the telecoupling framework to illustrate how flows in beef affect and are affected by social-ecological processes occurring between distant systems in Africa, and how those dynamics will likely change over the next few decades because of climate-induced shifts in a major bovine disease, trypanosomosis. The disease is currently wide-spread in Africa, affecting millions of cattle every year and resulting in massive economic losses. Increasing temperatures are predicted to substantially reduce the geographic range of the cattle disease by 2050 in regions of Africa, thereby potentially releasing cattle from disease control in those areas. Despite the societal and economic benefits, greater cattle production can also lead to significant environmental degradation. Our investigation takes a qualitative, yet systematic, approach to explore how changes in the regional distribution of cattle production, caused by shifts in the bovine disease, will affect the social and ecological conditions of the telecoupled system in the future. Doing so lays the groundwork to quantify telecouplings and improve decision making under uncertainty in the future.

Key words

cattle; climate change; social-ecological systems; telecoupling

Copyright © 2018 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