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Institutional change in social-ecological systems: The evolution of grassland management in Inner Mongolia

Robinson, Brian E., Li, Ping, Hou, Xiangyang
Global environmental change 2017 v.47 pp. 64-75
buffers, evolution, grasslands, issues and policy, land tenure, landscapes, leasing, livelihood, livestock production, markets, winter, China
Communities living in the grasslands of present day Inner Mongolia have experienced dramatic social, economic and ecological changes over the past millennium. More recently, these grasslands have undergone widespread degradation, raising concern for securing local herders' livelihoods. To understand these changes in ecological and welfare outcomes over long time scales, we define five broad periods of relative institutional stability over the past millennium, characterize social-ecological system during each period, and then assess major changes between these periods. Looking at changes in institutional contexts helps explain some of our outcomes of interest. We find that while much attention has been given to the change in grassland lease structures in China, the role of market integration and buffers against historically natural constraints on livestock production (e.g., protection from the winter months) have decoupled formerly tight local social-ecological links. This decoupling, along with weak land tenure security due to a complex and volatile policy landscape, suppresses local incentives for grassland conservation.