MORE STEP – Mobility at risk: Sustaining the Mongolian Steppe Ecosystem

The joint project MORE STEP investigates social-ecological dynamics in the Mongolian steppe ecosystem. Its objective is the early identification of irreversible changes (tipping points) and their possible consequences. For this project, land degradation and the reduced sustainability of ecosystems by social influences – such as urbanization or changes to the nomadic way of life – are closely examined. Particular attention is focused on wild and domesticated herd animals, the mobility of which is being increasingly limited.


Since the democratization of Mongolia in the early 1990s, there have been far-reaching social and economic changes in the region. Thanks to privatization, mining is continuing to gain significance as an economic sector, it is an important driver for an extensive development of infrastructure. The previously most important economic activity has also changed over the course of time: pastoral agriculture, which is to say the use of naturally grown grassland for mobile pastoral farming. Larger and larger herds are increasingly concentrated on areas close to settlements. These changes are having an ever more intense effect on the steppes’ social-ecological system – including in the form of landscape fragmentation, degradation and decreasing availability of water. These processes are further amplified by the effects of climate change and could in future exceed decisive tipping points – points at which irreversible changes occur for the ecosystem and biodiversity, but also for the people in the region. The joint project MORE STEP concerns itself in particular with these societal transformation processes and their effect on the social-ecological system.

Research approach

The project team pursues the aim of identifying irreversible processes (tipping points) early on, in order to stop or prevent them. For this, it is necessary for there to be an analysis of the prevalent social-ecological dynamics and feedback effects, on the basis of which more sustainable paths of development may be outlined. In the joint project, ISOE is responsible for the sub-projects “Societal Drivers” and “Perception and Evaluation of Societal Transformation Processes.”

First of all, relevant stakeholders (e.g. nomads, mining or oil companies, governmental organizations and non-governmental organizations) are ascertained. The analysis includes the identification of stakeholders and a prioritization of their process involvement by means of an interest-influence matrix. A stakeholder workshop acts to incorporate the relevant stakeholders into the further course of the project. In the framework of the workshop, drivers of societal transformations and their interaction are worked out. The findings obtained are supplemented by other expert interviews, so that comprehensible and credible future scenarios can be developed.

The perception and evaluation of prevalent societal transformation processes (urbanization, nomadic way of life) in Mongolia are also investigated. Expert interviews and qualitative interviews with representatives of relevant social groups are carried out for this purpose.

The results of these sub-projects supply important findings for understanding what kind of contribution societal transformation makes towards a change in the ecosystem of the Mongolian steppes. The objective is to work out recommendations for sustainable development. The project contributes to the preparation of a longer research project, in which a more profound understanding of the relevant systems is to be achieved, and sustainable paths of development – to be realized with a transdisciplinary approach – are to be determined and initiated.

Project partners

  • Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F) (lead)
  • Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung SGN Görlitz
  • Universität Marburg


The research project “MORE STEP – Mobility at risk: Sustaining the Mongolian Steppe Ecosystem” is being funded within the funding measure “Tipping Points, Dynamics and Interactions Between Social and Ecological Systems (BioTip)” by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).


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


2017/06 – 2018/05