In many dryland regions, traditional pastoral land use strategies are exposed to various drivers such as demographic or socio-economic change. This may lead to an adjustment of livelihood strategies and behavior of pastoral households, involving a change in attitudes toward livestock, pasture condition and social norms. We use an agent-based model to examine long-term social-ecological consequences and implications for system resilience of such behavioral changes (e.g., giving up a social norm). The model captures feedback between pastures, livestock and household livelihood in a common property grazing system. We systematically compare three stylized household behavioral types (traditional, maximizer and satisficer) that differ in their preferences for livestock, their compliance with social norms on pasture resting and how they are influenced by the behavior of others. Simulation results show that the traditional, norm-abiding household type maintains the pasture condition, provided that overall household numbers do not exceed a critical threshold. In contrast, a switch to a maximizer type that ignores norms may lead to long-term pasture degradation and livestock loss, pushing the system to an undesirable state. A change toward a new satisficing household type that constrains its herd size while diversifying its income sources can lead to improved pasture conditions and higher total livestock numbers, even with increased household numbers. We conclude that changes in household behavior have strong implications for long-term social-ecological system dynamics and have to be considered to assess the resilience of pastoral common property systems.
Read the full article in Ecological Complexity.