CNH2-S: Long Term Perspectives on Water Security, Food Security, and Land Management Among Pastoralists Experiencing Change

  • Douglass, Matthew M. (PI)
  • Kiura, Purity P. (CoPI)
  • Pontzer, Herman (CoPI)
  • Powell, Larkin L.A. (CoPI)
  • Rosinger, Asher (CoPI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


Changing weather patterns and globalization affect the long-term sustainability of communities. Arid and semi-arid grasslands and ranching/herding communities are particularly affected by uncertainty regarding the availability of water, food, forage, and grazing land. This research project investigates long term perspectives on water security, food security, habitat loss, cultural change, and land management among pastoralists experiencing change in a rangeland ecosystem. Using archaeological, historical aerial imagery, remote sensing techniques, ethnography, and generative modeling, this project will contribute to a more nuanced understanding of complex interactions within pastoralist/grazing socio-environmental systems in semi-arid lands globally. It will test the hypothesis that the current intersection of development, land management, and changing environmental circumstances represents a recent phenomenon that deviates from long-term trends and if left unchecked will ultimately lead to environmental degradation. Project results will be widely disseminated to increase access to clean water and healthcare among the focal pastoralist community. The project will also produce data that is useful for understanding the resiliency of grazing practices relevant to cattle-ranchers in the United States and globally, and teaching materials (e.g. computer simulations, a roleplaying boardgame) to educate US students about systems thinking, resiliency, and conservation. Teaching materials will be made available for free through University of Nebraska teaching initiatives and websites.

This project will document the resiliency of traditional land use systems in semi-arid lands and the changes they face in an increasingly globalized world with shifting weather patterns. Currently, the local ecosystem faces land degradation and loss of wildlife, while increases in waterborne illness and food insecurity threaten the pastoralist community. The investigators hypothesize that the current intersection of development, land management, and changing environmental circumstances represents a recent phenomenon that deviates from long-term trends and if left unchecked will lead to widespread environmental degradation. Reviews of the archaeology and paleoecology of the region indicate a long-term coupling between pastoralist societies and the natural environment, yet current ethnographic and health indicators suggest stress in the socio-ecological system. The overall project aim is to integrate environmental and human data spanning 10ka to gain a deep perspective on the system and its adaptive capacity through time. This will be accomplished by merging data from ongoing paleoecological, archaeological, and ethnographic research over the last several decades with new research targeted at understanding social-ecological interactions and their implications for the modern community. Archaeological study, historic aerial imagery, and remote sensing data will provide a longitudinal perspective onto land use patterns and ecology through time. Ethnographic interviews will help to characterize traditional land use and conservation practices and their recent changes, while investigations of health, nutrition, water quality, water and food insecurity, human and livestock energetics, and contemporary land cover will provide a baseline for understanding the impacts of recent developments. Finally, generative modeling will help to establish linkages between contemporary observations and historic proxies and allow projection of current trends forward. Results will provide an important tool for communicating with stakeholders (e.g. pastoralists, land managers, NGOs) and will have relevance for understanding the complex interactions of pastoralist/grazing coupled natural human systems in semi-arid lands globally

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date10/1/199/30/23


  • National Science Foundation: $748,870.00


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