Social-Ecological Transformations: Human-Animal Relations Under Climate Change in Northern Eurasia (HUMANOR)


The rationale is to understand contemporary nomadic pastoralist livelihoods experiencing rapid climate and land use change by detailing their historical trajectories in contrasting socio-economic, administrative and ecological contexts. HUMANOR is one of nine projects funded under the theme “Societal Transformation in the Face of Climate Change” for four years and it's funded by the Joint Program Initiative (JPI) Climate.  

Project description

Climate warming will instigate societal transformations in the 21st century. Some indigenous social-ecological systems (SESs) have proven resilient in space and time, yet most are considered at risk. With the Arctic warming faster than lower latitudes, there is an urgent need to increase our understanding of response capacities locally, regionally and internationally.

In HUMANOR we are looking at the climate and non-climate drivers in human-animal relations over time scales of tens and hundreds of years. We are trying to establish whether the climate has been the most important driver of the change, or have the societal changes such as legislation and governance overruled the climate effect. Our main study areas are northern Fennoscandia, Yamal and Mongolia.

The rationale is to understand contemporary nomadic pastoralist livelihoods experiencing rapid climate and land use change by detailing their historical trajectories in contrasting socio-economic, administrative and ecological contexts. Participatory approach is having a pivotal role in HUMANOR, since we do involve the herders in research design, data collection and analysis. The project concentrates in two time scales – post-WWII and the late Holocene (ca. last 2000 years). These time scales have experienced significant societal and climatic changes in terms of transition from hunting to herding reindeer, and the change from collectivization to post-collectivized society.


The methodology of HUMANOR encompasses several complementary aspects, including:

  1. Extensive participant observation in the field with active herders and semi-directed interviews with sedentary or retired herders; 
  2. PGIS mapping of cultural heritage sites as well as contemporary human-animal agency and landscape use;  
  3. Reconstruction of past human-animal relationships and environmental histories on and in the vicinity of cultural heritage sites through various proxies, e.g. terrestrial and lacustrine pollen records; 
  4. Visual anthropology, including audio-visual documentation of oral histories (myths, legends) among different age cohorts, both male and female.

These methods cover different time scales, from decadal to centennial and various spatial scales from individual dwelling, households and corrals to landscapes and regional SESs (e.g. Sápmi). All methods share the potential to shed new light on social-ecological transformations regardless of their nature (e.g. climate or non-climate related), as manifest through human-animal relationships (i.e. domestication) and landscape agency.

Research questions

  • Is climate change really the dominant driver in Northern Eurasian pastoral social-ecological systems?
  • What role have people and animals played? At what time/spatial scales?
  • How important are other non-climatic drivers, e.g. governance, legislative regimes, markets?
  • What are the main climate related risks (eg. extreme weather) in coming decades as perceived locally?
  • How have past climatic and non-climatic pressures been managed?
  • How do responses vary across different indigenous nomadic peoples in the Nordic countries, Eastern and Western Siberia, and Mongolia?

Stakeholder advisory board

In HUMANOR we involve non-academic stakeholders in research co-design and knowledge co-production. Stakeholder Advisory Board members are:

  • Juha Magga, an indigenous Sami reindeer herder from the Enontekiö region. President of the World Reindeer Herders Association, Finland. 
  • Lars-Anders Baer, an indigenous Sami reindeer herder belonging to the Luokta-Mavas village. Chairman of the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples in the Barents Region, Sweden. 
  • Niklas Labba, an indigenous Sami reindeer herder from Saarivuoma village. Head of the Language section, Sami Parliament, Norway.

Project members

Arctic Centre, University of Lapland serves as Lead Principal Investigator. The other partners include University of Aberdeen, University of Uppsala, Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research, Tromsö, Swedish Mountain and Sami Museum, Jokkmokk and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Ås.

Funded by the Joint Program Initiative (JPI) Climate.



HUMANOR project coordinator Bruce Forbes (bottom center) during recent fieldwork with nomadic Nenets reindeer herders on Yamal Peninsula, Northwest Siberia.

HUMANOR team.jpg

Humanor launch workshop 21-22 January 2015 in Arktikum Rovaniemi.