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The socio-ecological dynamics of pastoralism and overstocking in the Dhofar Mountains of Oman

Ball, Lawrence (2018) The socio-ecological dynamics of pastoralism and overstocking in the Dhofar Mountains of Oman. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:73239)

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Abstract

Achieving sustainable use of natural resources is the greatest challenge facing humanity today. Rangelands, which cover one-third to one-half of the earth's ice-free surface, are frequently mismanaged, vulnerable to climate change, and in a degraded state, and their inhabitants are some of the poorest and most marginalized communities on earth. Despite over a century of scientific attention, we still lack an adequate understanding of how rangeland socio-ecological systems operate and how rangeland vegetation responds to abiotic and biotic variables.

The Dhofar Mountains represent a rather unique rangeland case study, with atypical social, cultural, political, economic and ecological situations, which could provide valuable insights for rangeland science. Moreover, the Dhofar mountain region is understudied, globally unique, supports a wealth of biodiversity and provides valuable ecosystem services to the local population, yet the threat of overstocking, despite being well-recognised, has received little scientific attention.

Therefore, this interdisciplinary research which utilises contemporary methods from the social, ecological and rangeland sciences, aims to firstly understand the social processes driving overstocking in rural Dhofar and secondly, assess the impacts of overstocking on vegetation communities. Data collection methods included interviews, questionnaires, participatory mapping exercises, vegetation sampling and remote sensing. Analytical procedures included qualitative coding, the application of a socio-ecological systems framework, multivariate analysis of vegetation communities and GIS spatial analysis.

The results provide the first detailed analysis of the socio-ecological system surrounding pastoralism in Dhofar. We find that livestock ownership is principally motivated by strong pastoral values rooted in cultural norms. But livestock ownership is expensive due to the requirement for daily feedstuff provisioning, which in turn makes local livestock prices uncompetitive against imported livestock. Few livestock are sold and the expense means some better-educated or wealthier individuals are losing interest. By applying a socio-ecological system framework we identify variables inhibiting self-organization, which can be summarised as too many resource users in an unproductive system with undervalued resources.

Feedstuff provision is found to be a critical variable which deems many rangeland concepts inapplicable and maintains livestock populations beyond the carrying capacity of the environment. Subsequently, the rangelands, which receive reliable precipitation, exhibit equilibrium properties. Several decades of overbrowsing has increased the frequency of unpalatable species, decreased plant density, reduced advanced growth, altered population age structures, and altered plant phytomorphology through the damaging effects of management practises, bark stripping and browsing.

We identify six new variants and a pre-described seventh variant of the Anogeissus forest. Our results suggest that two variants are the result of historical agricultural practises and deforestation, and long-term stocking rates are the primary driver of vegetation change across all variants. Finally, using a novel method, we calculate that seventeen percent of continuous-canopy forest has been lost in the study area and provide further evidence that unforested areas are the result of anthropogenic deforestation.

Our findings contribute valuable insights for rangeland science and demonstrate the need for new case studies, and synthesis of concepts and theories, specific to pastoralism in the Middle East. Our findings highlight a requirement for an intervention to reduce livestock pressure on the rangelands in Dhofar. We propose a shift away from the status quo of unmanaged and unproductive overstocking to an economically and environmentally sustainable rural livestock production system through certification, sustainable intensification and marketization.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Tzanopoulos, Joseph
Thesis advisor: MacMillan, Douglas
Uncontrolled keywords: Dhofar, rangelands, pastoralism, Oman, socio-ecological systems, overgrazing, overbrowsing, Khareef, South Arabia
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 27 Mar 2019 15:13 UTC
Last Modified: 01 Dec 2021 00:00 UTC
Resource URI: https://kar.kent.ac.uk/id/eprint/73239 (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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