Resilience under rapid climate and land use change in Arctic social-ecological systems: an emphasis on Northwest Eurasia

Arctic Northern Eurasia’s climate is changing at a fast pace, with strong impacts on its ecosystems: warmer summers have led to increases in tundra productivity (despite ‘heavy’ grazing by large reindeer herds sustained over decades); warmer winters and reduced sea ice have increased the frequency of rain-on-snow events, leading to record-breaking winter and spring mortality of reindeer; and permafrost melting has caused a widespread drying/draining of lakes, reducing freshwater fish populations.
Yet, nomadic pastoralists from Fennoscandia to Eastern Siberia and Mongolia have dealt with extreme weather and variable climate for centuries. Over the past 2,000 years, some Arctic indigenous peoples (e.g. Sami, Nenets) transitioned from hunting to herding, shifting major reindeer populations from wild to semi-domesticated herds. In the process, they directly and indirectly affected tundra/taiga vegetation and soils at scales ranging from a few meters across (Sami milking sites) to entire regions (e.g. Yamal Peninsula). In recent decades, the development of extractive industries on these lands has been significant and has added pressure on these peoples’ livelihoods.

Beyond the simplistic concept of ‘overgrazing’, there is a real need to understand human-animal relations, social-ecological drivers and potential climate feedbacks in Northern Eurasian landscapes. It is also overly simplistic to assume that climate change is now, and has been, the main driver of social-ecological transformation in a climatically dynamic Arctic – tundra people live with change!
Prof Forbes will present results from his long-term research on social-ecological systems in Northwestern Eurasia and discuss on trajectories of nomadism in contrasting climates.
Followed by drinks and refreshments