MORE STEP – Mobility at Risk: Sustaining the Mongolian Steppe Ecosystem (Phase II)

The research project MORE STEP investigates processes of change in the ecosystem of the Eastern Mongolian steppe and their possible consequences for nature and society. The mobility of wild and domesticated herd animals plays a major role in the integrity of the ecosystem. Therefore, the first project phase (2019–2023) focused on societal transformations and anthropogenic effects on mobility in the steppe ecosystem. From 2023 onwards, the second phase of the project has been aiming to identify the role of climate change in the mobility of wildlife and herders while also examining the forthcoming obstacles these groups in the Mongolian steppe are facing due to climate change.

Research Approach

The objectives of the MORE STEP research project are to analyze the social-ecological dynamics in the Mongolian steppe ecosystem and to understand the complex interrelations and feedback mechanisms between nature and society in order to identify irreversible processes (so-called tipping points) and thus prevent them at an early stage. The interdisciplinary approach of the project combines social scientific research on societal transformations with natural scientific research on the regional distribution and mobility patterns of wildlife, as well as changes in the steppe vegetation. The combination of field research, remote sensing and modelling allows the project team to determine social-ecological interactions and feedback processes. Indicators for identifying potential tipping points and sustainable development paths will be jointly developed. Furthermore, MORE STEP will include appropriate applications, such as an online grassland information system.

In the first project phase, the team developed a collaborative working mode involving researchers and non-academic stakeholders (e.g. nomads, industry, governmental and nongovernmental organiations). This was implemented in successful workshops that were held with a total of 50 people in 2019 (in person) and in 2021 (online).

Subsequently, in the second project phase starting in 2023 a joint learning expedition consisting of four workshops will be conducted in the four different provinces (aimags) of the study area. In phase two, ISOE contributes its social-ecological and transdisciplinary expertise in the following areas of the research project: Using qualitative social empirical and participatory methods, the topics of ‘inter- and intragenerational dynamics of traditional ecological knowledge at the community level’ and ‘self-understanding and perception of herders on nature and wildlife in times of climate change’ will be investigated. Furthermore, the effect of herder mobility on livelihoods and the interaction between livestock and wildlife mobility will constitute an integral part of our analysis. The subsequent findings will be the basis for the development of solutions for a nomadic way of life under transformation pressures.

Using multivariate mixed modeling methods, the ISOE team is investigating the strategies used by herders to cope with and adapt to climate change. As a consequence, the available scenarios from the first phase will be updated. Within the project consortium, ISOE is also responsible for transdisciplinary knowledge integration.

Background

In arid regions, the influence of changing environmental conditions makes mobility a crucial survival strategy for humans and animals. While in recent decades mobile grazing systems have worldwide experienced a significant decline, Mongolia is home to one of the last intact steppe ecosystems with traditional land use and remarkable biodiversity. Since the end of the Soviet Union, however, Mongolia has experienced far-reaching economic and societal changes. While the extraction of mineral resources has led to an expansion of infrastructure that contributed to the fragmentation of the steppe, it has also created economic opportunities, resulting in new jobs and different lifestyles. 

The nomadic way of life that is culturally, socially, economically and scenically significant, has been subject to major changes. While the number of families owning cattle herds has decreased, their spatial concentration in the vicinity of settlements has risen. In addition to these societal factors, the consequences of climate change also exacerbate the process of change and have led to fundamental changes in the steppe’s social-ecological system. Should these processes continue, the ecosystem runs the risk of reaching tipping points, after which major changes become irreversible for biodiversity as well as for humans.

Research Cooperation Partners

  • Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre SBiK-F (Head) 
  • Senckenberg Museum of Natural History Görlitz
  • International Institute (IHI) Zittau as part of the Technical University of Dresden
  • Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich 
  • Centre for Nomadic Pastoralism Studies, Mongolia 
  • Mongolian University of Life Sciences 
  • National University of Mongolia

Practice Partners 

  • Hustai National Park 
  • Wildlife Conservation Society Mongolia 

Funding

The research project “MORE STEP – Mobility at risk: Sustaining the Mongolian Steppe Ecosystem” is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as part of the funding measure “Tipping points, Dynamics and Interrelations of Social and Ecological Systems (GlobalTip) (Kipppunkte, Dynamik und Wechselwirkungen von sozialen und ökologischen Systemen)”.

Publications

Drees, Lukas/Stefan Liehr/Batjav Batbuyan/Oskar Marg/Marion Mehring (2022): In search of a nomadic pastoralism for the 21st century. A transdisciplinary development of future scenarios to foster a social-ecological transformation in Mongolia. Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research 35 (3), 481-505

Kasymov, Ulan/Irene Ring/Ganzorig Gonchigsumlaa/Nandintsetseg Dejid/Lukas Drees (2022): Exploring complementarity among interdependent pastoral institutions in Mongolia. Sustainability Science

Mehring, Marion (2022): Methods for Transdisciplinary Integration - Lessons Learned from Case Studies in Different Cultural Contexts. In: Kluge, Fanny A. (Hg.): Transdisciplinarity. A Research Mode for Real-World Problems. Discussion Paper, 16. Berlin, 46-48

Tarne, Anika/Batbuyan Batjav/Denise Margaret S. Matias/Marion Mehring (2022): Rural to urban migration in Mongolia - Social-ecological conditions for a stepwise process. ISOE-Diskussionspapiere, 47. Frankfurt am Main: ISOE - Institut für sozial-ökologische Forschung

Matias, Denise Margaret S./Lukas Drees/Ulan Kasymov/Nandintsetseg Dejid/Batjav Batbuyan/Tserendeleg Dashpurev/Usukhjargal Dorj/Ganzorig Gonchigsumlaa/Thomas Müller/Irene Ring/Marion Mehring (2020): Mobility at risk: Sustaining the Mongolian steppe ecosystem - developing a vision. Stakeholder involvement and identification of drivers and pathways towards sustainable development. ISOE-Materialien Soziale Ökologie, 62. Frankfurt am Main: ISOE - Institut für sozial-ökologische Forschung

Hummel, Diana/Marion Mehring (2019): On the Move. Mobilität und sozial-ökologische Transformationen im westafrikanischen Sahel und in der Mongolei. Natur Forschung Museum 149 (10-12), 172-175

Mehring, Marion/Batjav Batbuyan/Sanjaa Bolortsetseg/Bayarbaatar Buuveibaatar/Tserendeleg Dashpurev/Lukas Drees/Shiilegdamba Enkhtuvshin/Gonchigsumlaa Ganzorig/Thomas Hickler/Lukas Lehnert/Stefan Liehr/Georg Miehe/Gungaa Munkhbolor/Thomas Müller/Dejid Nandintsetseg/Kirk Olson/Irene Ring/Anika Tarne/Yun Wang/Karsten Wesche (2018): Keep on moving - How to facilitate nomadic pastoralism in Mongolia in the light of current societal transformation processes. ISOE Policy Brief, 7. Frankfurt am Main: ISOE - Institut für sozial-ökologische Forschung

Mehring, Marion/Batjav Batbuyan/Sanjaa Bolortsetseg/Bayarbaatar Buuveibaatar/Tserendeleg Dashpurev/Lukas Drees/Shiilegdamba Enkhtuvshin/Gungaa Munkhbolor/Thomas Müller/Dejid Nandintsetseg/Karsten Wesche (2018): Mobility at risk: Sustaining the Mongolian Steppe Ecosystem - societal transformation processes. Stakeholder analysis and identification of drivers and potential solution pathways. ISOE-Materialien Soziale Ökologie, 52. Frankfurt am Main: ISOE - Institut für sozial-ökologische Forschung

Duration

2023/10 – 2025/09