Anticipating vulnerability to climate change in dryland pastoral systems: Using dynamic systems models for the Kalahari

Andrew J. Dougill, Evan D.G. Fraser, Mark S. Reed

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Citations (Scopus)


It is vitally important to identify agroecosystems that may cease functioning because of changing climate or land degradation. However, identifying such systems is confounded on both conceptual and methodological grounds, especially in systems that are moving toward thresholds, a common trait of dryland environments. This study explores these challenges by analyzing how a range of external pressures affect the vulnerability of dryland pastoral systems in the Kalahari. This is achieved by employing dynamic systems modeling approaches to understand the pathways by which communities became vulnerable to drought. Specifically, we evaluate how external pressures have changed: (1) different agroecosystems' abilities to tolerate drought, i.e., ecosystem resilience; (2) rural communities' abilities to adapt to drought, mediated via their access to assets; and (3) the ability of institutions and policy interventions to play a role in mediating drought-related crises, i.e., socio-political governance. This is done by reanalyzing ecological and participatory research findings along with farm-scale livestock offtake data from across the Kalahari in Botswana. An iterative process was followed to establish narratives exploring how external drivers led to changes in agroecosystem resilience, access to assets, and the institutional capacity to buffer the system. We use causal loop diagrams and statistical dynamic system models to express key quantitative relationships and establish future scenarios to help define where uncertainties lie by showing where the system is most sensitive to change. We highlight how that greater sharing of land management knowledge and practices between private and communal land managers can provide 'win-win-win' benefits of reducing system vulnerability, increasing economic income, and building social capital. We use future scenario analyses to identify key areas for future studies of climate change adaptation across the Kalahari.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14
Number of pages1
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPrint publication - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Botswana
  • Climate change
  • Drought sensitivity
  • Dynamic systems modelling
  • Kalahari
  • Pastoral farming
  • Vulnerability pathways


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