Pastoralists' responses to variation of rangeland resources in time and space

Ryan R J McAllister, Iain J. Gordon, Marcus Janssen, Nick Abel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

69 Scopus citations

Abstract

We explore the response of pastoralists to rangeland resource variation in time and space, focusing on regions where high variation makes it unlikely that an economically viable herd can be maintained on a single management unit. In such regions, the need to move stock to find forage in at least some years has led to the evolution of nomadism and transhumance, and reciprocal grazing agreements among the holders of common-property rangeland. The role of such informal institutions in buffering resource variation is well documented in some Asian and African rangelands, but in societies with formally established private-property regimes, where we focus, such institutions have received little attention. We examine agistment networks, which play an important role in buffering resource variation in modern-day Australia. Agistment is a commercial arrangement between pastoralists who have less forage than they believe they require and pastoralists who believe they have more. Agistment facilitates the movement of livestock via a network based largely on trust. We are concerned exclusively with the link between the characteristics of biophysical variation and human aspects of agistment networks, and we developed a model to test the hypothesis that such a link could exist. Our model builds on game theory literature, which explains cooperation between strangers based on the ability of players to learn whom they can trust. Our game is played on a highly stylized landscape that allows us to control and isolate the degree of spatial variation and spatial covariation. We found that agistment networks are more effective where spatial variation in resource availability is high, and generally more effective when spatial covariation is low. Policy design that seeks to work with existing social networks in rangelands has potential, but this potential varies depending on localized characteristics of the biophysical variability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)572-583
Number of pages12
JournalEcological Applications
Volume16
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 1 2006

Keywords

  • Agistment
  • Climatic variability
  • Game theory
  • Iterated prisoner's dilemma
  • Pastoral opportunism
  • Trust and cooperation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology

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