Dr. Paul Leslie (Carolina Population Center, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) and Dr. J. Terrence McCabe (University of Colorado) will undertake research on how variation in household and community responses to environmental changes and policy constraints affect the overall resilience of socio-ecological systems, and the role of cultural institutions in those systems. Data to develop models to explore these issues will be collected in Tanzania. Throughout much of East Africa, traditionally nomadic and semi-nomadic herders have been adopting agriculture and engaging in labor migration. The environmental and social consequences of these changes are likely to be profound but remain poorly understood. This project will clarify the causes of the changing land use and livelihood patterns, and will explore how these changes affect the social-ecological system, including the viability of households and communities and the impacts on land cover and biodiversity. A particular focus will be response diversity. Response diversity results from the fact that not all actors (individuals, households, communities) respond the same way to changing conditions; the variation in response may be more important than the typical or average response in understanding the effects of decision making under changing conditions.
The project is innovative in its integration of empirical field-based research with agent-based modeling (ABM), a computer simulation technique that is well-suited to studying complex systems in which households and communities interact with one another and make decisions influenced by changing conditions. Used together, these methods will reveal much about how land use, livelihoods, family demography, population growth and other factors respond to changes in the physical and political-economic environment, especially unpredictable fluctuations and shocks that test overall system resilience. Shocks can be climatic (e.g., severe droughts), biotic (e.g., livestock disease epidemics), and sociopolitical (e.g., loss of access to pasture and other resources when conservation areas are established).
The scientific significance of this research lies in its contribution to understanding and theorizing the very complex effects of response diversity on socio-ecological resilience. The research results will have a direct bearing on conservation and development in East Africa and will also help to understand changing socio-ecological systems elsewhere. The researchers' findings also will suggest ways of mitigating the potentially negative impacts of social and ecological change on human well-being while also promoting effective conservation and development measures.