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

Mid-term results are promising on several fronts. Firstly, at centennial time scales, the palaeoecological team has had success in using proxy measures (e.g. coprophilous fungi and faecal soil residues) of large herbivore (e.g. reindeer, horse) presence in association with ancient human campsites in northern Fennoscandia and Russia, indicating that semi-domestic herds were important at least 1000 years ago, possibly considerably longer. AMS dating of the Yamal lake sediments has yielded some surprisingly old ages, which shows that the tundra lakes can be much older than expected. This opens new horizons for the research, and needs further investigation in the future.

Secondly, at decadal time scales, we are developing highly applied oral and visual histories bearing on both climatic and non-climatic drivers of social-ecological change. Trade appears to have, and have had, a twofold significance to the pastoralists over the decades and also in the past. On the other hand, it is working as a buffer in the higher latitudes by helping people to survive at the times of less suitable climate conditions for reindeer herding, but in Mongolia trade is actually increasing the vulnerability of people – they are more dependent on things that they cannot control themselves (such as the price of cashmere).

During the same period, Arctic warming has accelerated considerably. Even in places where the conversation among nomadic pastoralists was previously dominated by other concerns, such as the hydrocarbon extraction in West Siberia, or land tenure reform in Mongolia, extreme weather events over the past decade (e.g. winter rain-on-snow/pasture icing and prolonged drought) have triggered new internal discussions on weather and climate. Extreme weather events and warming climate in the northern Eurasia have caused fragmentation of the reindeer herds in some areas, which emphasizes the importance of the flexibility of herding systems and the access to different kinds of pastures to survival. Here again, we have had good success in combining pastoralists’ knowledge with state-of-the-art empirical data and modeling on e.g. sea ice and atmospheric conditions to place such events in their appropriate context and probe predictive capacities to potentially mitigate against future catastrophes.

Based on these and other preliminary results, the work is heading in interesting directions that were not all foreseen at the time of our original proposal. Hard decisions still remain in terms of depth versus breadth in our quest for narratives of past social-ecological transformations that can inform 21st century nomadic societies in a meaningful way. Our basic premise is to look in detail at contrasting cases both within and outside the European Research Area (ERA) to better understand where and how political and environmental drivers interact to affect land use regimes and land cover changes.

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