Exploring linked ecological and cultural tipping points in Mongolia Academic Article uri icon


  • © 2017 The Author(s) We review evidence of Holocene climate, vegetation, and cultural changes in Mongolia and critically examine evidence that Mongolia's steppes are at the brink of ecological and cultural tipping points in the Anthropocene. Until 5,000 YBP there is no evidence of lasting human influences on ecosystems, but after this time, changes in vegetation and soil physical properties signal domestic livestock grazing impacts on steppe ecosystems. Contemporary (1991–2015) literature and region by region analysis of climate, livestock, remote-sensing and human population data reveal two potential tipping points. Temperatures warmed across the 5 regions. Since 1991, livestock densities and forage use increased in most regions, the spatial distribution of grazing pressure is more heterogeneous, and variability increased in stocking densities, forage use and forage production in all or most regions. Substantial plant species shifts and losses occurred in the mountain and forest steppe regions. Although a large proportion of Mongolia's rangelands are altered from their ecological potential, few have crossed an irreversible threshold of ecological change. Rangelands in Mongolia's Khangai, northern and central regions may be approaching an ecological tipping point if grazing pressure is not reduced. After 1991, herder populations initially rose and then decreased significantly across most regions. If demographic and social trends contribute to loss of herding knowledge and identity, a cultural tipping point could occur. We describe four potential future scenarios that could unfold if these tipping points are reached, hypothesize feedbacks between ecological and cultural thresholds, and discuss implications for policy and management.

published proceedings

  • Anthropocene

altmetric score

  • 362.45

author list (cited authors)

  • Fernández-Giménez, M. E., Venable, N. H., Angerer, J., Fassnacht, S. R., Reid, R. S., & Khishigbayar, J
  • Fernández-Giménez, M. E., Venable, N. H., Angerer, J., Fassnacht, S. R., Reid, R. S., & Khishigbayar, J.

citation count

  • 58

complete list of authors

  • Fernández-Giménez, María E||Venable, Niah H||Angerer, Jay||Fassnacht, Steven R||Reid, Robin S||Khishigbayar, J

publication date

  • March 2017