Resource Management

The Role of Local Knowledge in the Risk Management of Extreme Climates in Local Communities: A Case Study in a Nomadic NIAHS Site

  • WANG Guoping 1, 2 ,
  • YANG Lun 1 ,
  • LIU Moucheng 1 ,
  • LI Zhidong 1, 2 ,
  • HE Siyuan , 1, * ,
  • MIN Qingwen , 1, 2, *
  • 1. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
  • 2. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
*HE Siyuan, E-mail: ;
MIN Qingwen, E-mail:

Received date: 2021-01-27

  Accepted date: 2021-05-12

  Online published: 2021-09-30

Supported by

The National Natural Science Foundation of China(42001194)


In the context of climate change, research on extreme climates and disaster risk management has become a crucial component of climate change adaptation. Local communities, which have been facing extreme climates for a long time in their production and daily life, have developed some locally applicable traditional knowledge that has played an important role in their adaptation to extreme climate and disaster risk management. Therefore, this research aims to link Local knowledge (LK) to community extreme climate disaster risk management in order to construct a conceptual model. It then takes the extreme climate adaptation strategy of traditional nomads in a temperate grassland of China as an example to analyze the role of LK in extreme climate adaptation using the proposed theoretical framework. The main research objectives of this study are: (1) To construct a conceptual model to illustrate the relations among extreme climate events, risk management, LK, and farmers' adaptation strategies; (2) To apply the theoretical framework to a field case to reveal context-specific extreme climate adaptation mechanisms with LK as a critical component; (3) To test the framework and provide suggestions for the extreme climates adaptation, and the conservation of LK related to climate change adaptation. The results show that from the perspective of disaster risk management, local communities could manage extreme climates as a disaster risk through adaptation strategies formed from LK, because as a knowledge system, LK contains relevant knowledge covering the whole process of disaster risk management.

Cite this article

WANG Guoping , YANG Lun , LIU Moucheng , LI Zhidong , HE Siyuan , MIN Qingwen . The Role of Local Knowledge in the Risk Management of Extreme Climates in Local Communities: A Case Study in a Nomadic NIAHS Site[J]. Journal of Resources and Ecology, 2021 , 12(4) : 532 -542 . DOI: 10.5814/j.issn.1674-764x.2021.04.011

1 Introduction

In the past decades, there has been rapidly growing interest in the potential role of local knowledge (LK) in the adaptation to climate change by local communities. The contribution of LK is mainly revealed in two aspects: 1) As a way of illustrating the occurrence of climate change and implications for vulnerable groups (Salick and Ross, 2009; Gearheard et al., 2010; Orlove et al., 2010); 2) As a way of providing a reference method for the government to adapt to climate change at national and local levels (UNFCCC, 2003; Wiggins and Wiggins, 2009). Climate change, as a general term for the abnormal changes of specific climatic elements, includes not only the average changes of climatic variables, but also the less frequent climate phenomena that deviate far from the average state, namely extreme climates. In the context of global climate change, the frequency of extreme climates is increasing (IPCC, 2012), which results in the frequent occurrence of extreme climate disaster events around the world and causes serious losses to society (Qin, 2009; Guo, 2015). Therefore, disaster risk management for extreme climate events has become one of the important measures for countries in the world to deal with climate change (Qin, 2015). At the 2010 UN climate change conference in Cancun, the issue of adaptation to climate change, which focuses on dealing with climate disasters and strengthening risk management, was regarded as a consensus.
Many studies have focused on LK and adaptation strategies in local communities to adapt to extreme climates. In the drought-prone areas of Magai, Myanmar, local communities have adapted to climate change by using local strategies such as crop variety improvement (drought-resistant varieties, high-yielding varieties, short-term varieties), crop diversification, crop rotation and adjusting planting dates (Tun et al., 2017). Farmers in eastern Ethiopia have adopted local coping measures such as planting different crops or different crop varieties, changing planting dates, and using soil and water conservation technologies to adapt to the extreme climates (Alemayehu and Bewket, 2017). Herdsmen in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China have adopted diversification (income source diversification, livestock diversification, asset diversification), mobility, storage, and other strategies to reduce their drought risk (Shi, 2015). The above examples show that farmers in different regions with different livelihoods will adopt appropriate adaptation strategies according to their circumstances, but some local adaptive strategies (Zhu et al.,2016; Wang et al., 2017), such as adjustment of farming season, variety of crops planted and livestock varieties, and variety improvement (Tesfaye and Seifu, 2016; Zhao et al., 2016) are mostly adopted by most farmers based on their LK. However, there is still a gap in that most of these studies concentrate on recording and analyzing the relevant LK and adaptation strategies to climate change in a specific case. Few studies have sorted out the role of LK in extreme climates from the theoretical level, especially from the perspective of disaster risk management.
This research aims to link LK to community extreme climate disaster risk management in order to construct a conceptual model. It then takes the extreme climate adaptation strategy of traditional nomads in a temperate grassland of China as an example to analyze the role of LK in extreme climate adaptation using the proposed theoretical framework. The main objectives of this study are: 1) To construct a conceptual model that illustrates the relations among extreme climate events, risk management, LK, and farmers’ adaptation strategies; 2) To apply the theoretical framework to a specific case in order to reveal context-specific extreme climate adaptation mechanisms with LK as a critical component; and 3) To modify the framework and provide suggestions for the extreme climates and for the conservation of LK related to climate change adaptation.

2 Methodology

The methodology of this study mainly includes two parts. The first part primarily explains the method and process of constructing the conceptual framework. The second part describes the methods applied to the case study.

2.1 Conceptual framework

In order to be more intuitive and clearer in expressing the relationship between LK and extreme climate, a conceptual model of the extreme climate adaptation from LK was developed. The model is informed by the concept of extreme climate, literature on disaster risk management and LK (Ge et al.,2008; Berkes, 2012; Qin, 2015). Firstly, classical literature reviewed was applied for analyzing the connotation of extreme climate, extreme climate disaster risk and risk management strategies, and the relationship between extreme climate and the disaster risk management strategy. Secondly, on the basis of Berks’ classification of LK, a keyword-based analysis of the literature was conducted from electronic databases to classify the extreme climate adaptation strategies of farmers and local communities in previous studies and to sort out the relationship between farmers’ adaptation strategies and LK. The searches retrieved articles with combinations of the following keywords: Traditional knowledge, LK, traditional wisdom, extreme climates, climate change, disaster risk reduction and disaster risk management, farmer’s adaptive strategies. Finally, on the basis of the above analysis, a logical conceptual framework that bridges extreme climate, disaster risk management, LK and farmers’ adaptation strategies is constructed (Fig. 1). The framework contains three main components: 1) The background (the gray part); 2) Process and main strategies of disaster risk management; and 3) The composition of the LK, and the specific adaptive strategies formed from LK. More details about the model are provided in the following section.
Fig. 1 The conceptual framework of local knowledge and disaster risk management

2.1.1 Extreme climate and disaster risk management

In the context of global climate change, the frequency of extreme climates is increasing (IPCC, 2012). Extreme climate refers to the events when the value of a climatic variable is higher (or lower) than a certain threshold near the upper (or lower) limit of the observation range (Qin, 2015). The occurrence of extreme climates is unpredictable, but the change from an extreme climate to a disaster largely depends on the vulnerability of the affected objects (Royal Society, 2014). Disaster risk is the function between the hazards and the vulnerability, and can be expressed as the following formula: D= H×V ( D=disaster risk; H=hazards, depending on the frequency and intensity of hazards, it mainly refers to extreme climate events in this research; V=vulnerability, depending on the social, political, and economic status of affected areas), and vulnerability includes the sensitivity, exposure, and adaptability of the affected areas (Qin, 2015). Exposure refers to the number and value of affected objects that are exposed in the risk; and sensitivity refers to the ability to resist the attack of the hazards, which is determined by the physical characteristics of the affected objects. Adaptability is the ability of the affected objects to deal with and recover from the disaster (Qin, 2015). Although various hazards cannot be eliminated, the vulnerability to disaster risks can be reduced through the management of extreme climate risks, and the potential impacts and losses caused by extreme climate disasters can be mitigated (Zheng et al.,2012). Disaster risk management involves taking risk management measures to reduce disaster losses based on the assessment of the frequency and intensity of hazards and the vulnerability of affected objects (Ge et al., 2008). It emphasizes that disaster management should be focused on the pre-disaster, and through pre-disaster disaster risk management, the possibility of disaster risk developing into actual disasters can be reduced, and the adaptability of affected objects can be improved, thereby enhancing the system’s ability to resist disasters (Wang et al.,2019a). Disaster risk management mainly includes four steps, namely risk identification, risk analysis, risk assessment, and risk disposal (Qin, 2015). Based on risk analysis and assessment, risk disposal strategies are mainly divided into four types according to the possibility of occurrence and degree of impact of the risk, namely risk avoidance, risk transfer, risk acceptance, and risk control. These strategies are mainly used to reduce the vulnerability to disaster risk by reducing the sensitivity and exposure of disaster risk receptors and improving their adaptability to the disaster risk, in order to realize the management of extreme climate disaster risk and the adaptation to climate change (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2 Relationship between extreme climates and disaster risk management

2.1.2 LK and disaster risk management

Evidence from previous research suggests that LK may contribute to adaptation to climate change in some ways (Wang et al.,2019b). LK is the knowledge that the people who have lived in a specific place possess about their local environment after a long-term practice (Warren et al., 1995). In local communities, LK can help people to identify the changes in their surroundings and record their responses to these changes. In addition, the conceptualization in this research was further expanded to include both the ‘traditional’ and ‘new’ practiced knowledge that are produced and applied by local people. Basically, LK is what communities know about natural hazard-related risks, how they perceive these risks, and what actions they take to address them, so it represents the foundation for indigenous peoples and local communities to cope with climate change. At the same time, as the practice and experience that has accumulated by the people of traditional ethnic communities in the specific local environment, it can improve people’s understanding of climate change and its impacts, and can also help us find ways to deal with climate change at the local level (Davis, 2010), which is exactly what empirical science such as natural science research and models lacks (Berkes et al., 2000).
According to Berks’ research, the basic composition of LK includes four levels, namely empirical ecological knowledge, land and resource management knowledge, social networks and institutions, and a worldview and belief system (Berkes,2012; Hosen and Nakamura, 2020). In the long-term utilization of natural resources, people in local communities have gradually accumulated empirical ecological knowledge about local species and their environment, including the identification, classification, behavior, and distributions of creatures, as well as regional geography and ecological knowledge (Berkes,2012; McMillen et al., 2017). Local people are thus empowered to predict and judge the changes of weather and season according to the development and reproduction nodes of animals and plants, and even to predict the occurrence of disastrous events (Stigter et al., 2005; Zheng et al., 2012). Therefore, LK of the environment plays an important role in predicting environmental changes and identifying climate disaster risks, and compared with the predictions of climate-change models, it provides information on a smaller and more realistic scale (Hosen and Nakamura, 2020).
The second level is the knowledge of resource management. Based on the first level, local communities have formed a knowledge system about the utilization and management of natural resources (Berkes, 2012). For example, LK about local cropping, soil and water management practices is often extensive reflecting adaptation to the local climate (Lebel, 2013), and it is crucial for maintaining the resilience of communities and households in the context of climate change (McMillen et al., 2014). In order to manage the extreme climate risks followed by the climate change, local communities have adopted various measures, including diversification, mobility and storage. Table 1 summarizes examples from the consulted literature of effective specific adaptive strategies followed by the indigenous and local communities in different parts of the world. It highlights and acknowledges some of the good practices of LK that have applied the risk disposal strategies of risk-sharing, risk-avoidance, risk-control and risk-acceptance in climate risk management, in adapting to extreme climate. For example, the diversification referred to in the changes of crop varieties, cultivation techniques and cropping patterns in the local communities mainly involve sharing risk among different resource types in order to reduce the disaster risk.
Table 1 Local knowledge in disaster risk management: Good practices from all over the world
Type of measures Specific strategies Location
Diversification Diversified crop varieties, diversified
planting patterns (Sun, 2012; Yang, 2015), and diversified collection and
consumption strategies (Fu, 2010)
Ethnic minority communities in southwest China
Diversified livestock animals and their
varieties (Shi, 2015)
Inner Mongolia
Diversified use of improved crop varieties (drought resistant varieties, high-yield
varieties, short-term varieties) (Tun et al., 2017)
Magwe District, dry zone region of Myanmar
Planting different crops and crop varieties Eastern Ethiopia
Storage Purchase and store ensilage (Wang et al., 2017) Gannan Plateau, Gansu Province
Purchase ensilage, renting pasture (Zhang
et al., 2019)
Hulun-Beir grassland, Inner Mongolia
Rainwater collection (Elizabeth et al., 2019) Latin America
Mobility Seasonal nomadism (Shen, 2013). The Qinghai- Tibetan Plateau
Sale of livestock, immigration (Kattumuri
et al., 2015)
Karnataka, southern India
Rotation and continuous seasonal grazing (Wang et al., 2016) Gannan Plateau, Gansu Province
times, individuals can rely on these reciprocal relationships, thus helping to ensure the resilience of resource access (Swiderska et al., 2011).
The third level is the knowledge of social networks and systems, which is the social mechanism that ensures the effective operation of the resource management system (Berkes, 2012). In the context of climate change, traditional social networks and institutions could buffer the impacts of extreme climate through effective information dissemination, resource support and sharing, as well as self-organization, in order to promote the adaptation of the local communities (McMillen et al., 2014). For example, strong local institutions and good communication in Chiang Rai have allowed the users of a scheme to continue to allocate water equally despite sharp declines in water availability as a consequence of expanding upstream irrigation systems and increasing water demand within their own scheme, as the farmers had adopted double-cropping systems (Oounvichit, 2011).
Worldview and belief systems are the fourth level that provide the internal support for the continuous accumulation and dissemination of local ecological knowledge and the effective operation of the resource management system and social network (Hosen and Nakamura, 2020). It is also a mechanism for transmitting knowledge between generations (Berkes et al., 2000). Indicators of the climate or other issues are shared in an opportunistic manner during community gatherings, such as religious ceremonies, funerals, and during meetings of different community groups (Šakić et al.,2019). In practice, these traditions help to build strong social networks and to maintain mutual relations by exchanging and sharing information and resources. They can develop and foster healthy and enduring relationships between the parties by building trust and establishing bonds between the members of the community (Ziegler, 2012). During hard

2.2 Case study site

Bayanwenduer Sumu (administrative township) is located in the northernmost part of Ar horqin Banner of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and includes 23 Gacha (administrative villages). It was selected specifically because it belongs to a sensitive area of climate change in China, which is a transitional zone from the medium-height mountains of Greater Khingan Mountains to Horqin sandy land. It is an ecologically vulnerable area, the average annual precipitation is 300-400 mm, and extreme climates like droughts, blizzards, hail, and cold rain have occurred frequently throughout history in this region. The livelihood of the people here is mainly dependent on farming and nomadic animal herding, especially traditional nomadic herding, so in other words, the local community here is mainly reliant on natural resources such as land, water, and plants for survival. Therefore, its development is highly dependent on natural resources. However, the natural resources on which their traditional livelihoods depend are vulnerable to extreme climates. In the long-term nomadic production and lifestyle, the local community here has accumulated a wealth of LK and corresponding coping strategies to manage extreme climate risks.
Fig. 3 The location of the case study area in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region

2.3 Data collection and analysis

The field study was conducted by means of randomly selecting four gacha administrative villages) n Bayanwenduer Sumu ( Table 2), and a semi-structured interview was applied to collect the LK and adaptive strategies related to extreme climate adaption in these chosen areas. We surveyed 23 herdsmen with the help of village managers who facilitated the translation to/from Mongolian during each interview. Respondents over the age of 30 were mainly selected because they possessed more LK than younger individuals. The interview questions pertained to the common extreme climate events in the area they lived, how they recognize the changes of weather through their LK, and what kinds of strategies they have taken to adapt to it. At the same time, the mapping undertaken during the semi-strucured interview was used primarily as a tool to help the participants mark their nomadic route and the sites of their summer-autumn pastureland and winter-spring pastureland on a prepared map.
Table 2 Details of the semi-structured interviews
Survey sites Inter-
Gender Age (yr)
Male Female 0-30 31-50 >50
Hailasutai Gacha 8 5 3 1 5 2
Arihubu Gacha 6 4 2 0 5 1
Talinhua Gacha 5 2 3 0 3 2
Bayanbaolege Gacha 5 3 2 1 3 1
Total 24 14 10 2 16 6
Based on the semi-structured interview, a questionnairewas designed, which mainly includes the personal information of the respondents, such as age, education level, and the time of grazing. The common climate extremes in the region, as well as the corresponding adaptive measures they have taken, livestock species and varieties, and the livestock sale ratio are also included. Our survey included face-to-face interviews with 77 householders, who were the decision-makers of the sampled farming households (Table 3) in the four sites, with the help of four university students who are proficient in Mongolian and Chinese. The students were all trained in advance on how to conduct the questionnaire survey. We mainly chose herdsmen over 30 years old, and who have been grazing for more than 20 years to interview, since they have more grazing experience and relevant LK than others.
Table 3 Details of the structured interviews
Basic information Categories Number of interviewees Proportion (%)
Gender Male 59 76.60
Female 18 23.40
Age (yr) 0-30 4 5.30
31-50 37 48.70
> 50 35 46.10
Time for
experience (yr)
0-5 5 6.50
6-10 2 2.60
11-15 1 1.30
16-20 6 7.80
>20 63 81.80

3 Results

3.1 Risk identification and forecasting through empirical ecological knowledge

Empirical ecological knowledge, as physical indicators of imminent extreme weather or the likelihood of seasonal transformation, would help the local community to adapt to the current climate better, whether it was changing or not (Lebel, 2013). In Bayanwenduer Sumu, the LK for risk identification of extreme climates is mainly based on the observations of natural phenomena in the environment where the people lived. The environment includes climate factors, bio-indicators (such as plants, microorganisms and animals), and the inorganic environmental factors. By observing the reactions of the surrounding environment, the Mongolian herdsmen in the study sites can predict the change of climate and the possibility of extreme climates (Table 4). For example, the herdsmen predict climate risk according to the behavior of their sheep. In their long-term grazing process, herdsmen observed that before a rainstorm, the sheep would show some abnormal behaviors, such as flocking to nearby Highlands. As a result, this empirical ecological knowledge makes it possible for them to take corresponding measures in advance. Therefore, this kind of knowledge contained in LK can play a role of risk identification in Bayanwenduer Sumu.

3.2 Risk disposal through specific adaptive strategies based on natural resource management

According to the survey of herdsmen, the extreme climates in the Bayanwenduer Sumu include droughts, rainstorms, chilling damage, snowstorms, and hail (Fig. 4). Among them, droughts and rainstorms are the ones that have the most serious impact on their production, even if they occur at a very low frequency. In order to cope with those extreme climates, local herders have taken a series of measures based on their knowledge of natural resource management and the social network. These measures can be divided into three parts, namely: diversification, livestock management and pasture transfer.
Table 4 Sources of extreme climate risk identification in the study sites
Type of
Awareness of an imminent extreme weather event
Types Detailed examples
Climate factors The direction, color,
and shape of clouds
Black clouds in the northwest indicating hail
Bio-indicators Behavior of livestock Cattle and sheep going up the mountain means rainstorm
Behavior of poultry The chickens going into the nest means the rainstorm
Behavior of wild
Grassland locusts increasing means drought,
Ants coming out of their hole means rainstorm,
Pheasants going downhill heralds snow
Objects Sweating water tank means rainstorm
Sun, moon, and stars The lunar halo is a sign of strong winds
Fig. 4 Extreme climates indicated through the interviewing of herdsmen in the study sites

3.2.1 Risk-sharing through diversification

The specific adaptive strategies of diversification in the Bayanwenduer Sumu are mainly manifested in the diversification of adaptation strategies and livestock breeding. Firstly, for adapting to the same climate risk, herdsmen would adopt diversified adaptive strategies, and these strategies differed among the households. At the same time, for different extreme climates, the adaptive strategies are also diversified (Fig. 5). Specifically, for drought, the diversified adaptive strategies mainly include purchasing silage, livestock sale, planting grass, renting grassland, diversified livestock breeding, pasture transfer, and livestock breed improvement. It also can be seen that the strategies adopted to adapt to droughts, blizzards, hail and cold rain are also different. For blizzards, the main adaptive strategy is purchasing silage, however, for droughts, in addition to purchasing silage, pasture transfer, renting pasture and planting forge are also equally adopted.
Fig. 5 Diversified adaptive measures adopted by herdsmen
Secondly, diversification is also reflected in the diversity of livestock species, livestock varieties and livestock breeding combinations in the study area. There are four livestock species in Bayanwenduer Sumu, which include five cattle varieties, eight sheep varieties, seven horse varieties, and one donkey variety (Table 5). According to the survey, 62% of the interviewed households raised two or three livestock species, and there are different breeds as well (Fig. 6). The basic livestock breeding combinations in the interviewed households are either cattle + sheep or cattle + sheep + horses or horses + cattle or cattle or sheep.
Table 5 Diversity of domestic livestock varieties in the study area
Species Traditional varieties Exotic varieties
Cattle Mongolia cattle Simmental, Hereford cattle, Angus, Charolais cattle
Sheep Mongolia sheep, Hanshan white cashmere goat, Zhaowuda mutton sheep Tsigai, Aohan merino, Small-tailed han, Boer goat, Sinkiang merino
Horses Mongol horse, Ujimqin horse, Baicha iron horse, Uxin horse Sanhe horses, Warm blooded horse, Thoroughbred
Donkeys Native donkey -
Through the interviews with herdsmen, we found that different livestock species have different tolerances to a given type of extreme climate. The herdsmen interviewed indicated that compared with horses and sheep, cattle are more likely to be affected by snow in winter. This is due to the relatively wide feeding range of horses, which is conducive to the search for more widely dispersed food, and sheep can relatively skillfully feed on the vegetation covered by snow. However, cattle have no obvious advantages in the range of activities and feeding skill due to their physiological characteristics. Therefore, raising various types of livestock could divide the risk among the resources, and reduce the risk and its possible impact.
Fig. 6 Proportions of different livestock

3.2.2 Risk-control through adjustments of the flock

According to the survey, droughts and blizzards are the main extreme climates that have the heaviest impact on the production and life of herdsmen in Bayanwenduer Sumu. Livestock and grassland are the main affected objects. Therefore, livestock and grassland become the main risk management objects of the herdsmen. In order to reduce the risk of livestock death and insufficient forage supply that can be caused by low temperature and seasonal drought in spring and winter, herdsmen often take measures to control the number of animals by selling or killing some of the livestock in advance, to ensure the composition of the flock is reasonable and there is enough forage and pasture for the rest of the livestock in winter. In the process of selling livestock, herdsmen often control the timing and quantity of livestock sold, and the ratio of males to females according to their breeding experience, the conditions of their grassland and their household manpower. Herdsmen in Bayanwenduer Sumu choose to sell their livestock in autumn every year because the winter is the high-risk period in their livestock breeding activity. According to this survey (Fig. 7), in 2019, the p (where p= O/ T, O=the number of livestock sold at the end of autumn; T=the number livestock before the sale at the end of autumn) in the interviewed households was as follows: for sheep, 68.18% of the interviewed households were p≥0.5. This reveals that the number of sheep sold was half or more than half of the total number of sheep in autumn 2019. For cattle, 61.43% of the interviewed households werep<0.5, which means 61.43% of the interviewed households chose to keep about two-thirds of the cattle. For the horses, 60% of the interviewed households werep≥0.5. The amount of livestock left after the sale is the highest breeding amount that can ensure the sustainable development of the livestock on the premise of a comprehensive evaluation of household manpower, grassland resources, and the capital demand of the year. After the sale, the herdsmen will purchase silage with the funds they acquired to ensure the rest of the livestock have sufficient food for the winter. Accordingly, the method of controlling the livestock breeding scale by selling is mainly through reducing the exposure of livestock, and improving the adaptability of the livestock to the risk by increasing the forage supply. In addition, the sex and age composition of the livestock sold were as follows: The proportion of aged or sick female livestock accounted for about 15%, and one-year-old male livestock were about 75%. As a result, adjustment of the flock is mainly through controlling and reducing the numbers of old, weak, sick, and disabled livestock to reduce the sensitivity of the livestock to extreme climate disasters, so as to reduce the risk.
Fig. 7 Livestock sales rate in autumn

Note: p= O/ T, O=the number of livestock sold at the end of autumn; T= the number livestock before the sale at the end of autumn.

3.2.3 Risk-avoidance through pasture transfer

Mobility is mainly realized through pasture transfer in Bayanwenduer Sumu. Pasture transfer is the main means of nomadism for the herdsmen in the study area. Through their long-term nomadic activities, herdsmen in Bayanwenduer Sumu have mastered the characteristics of the surrounding natural environment, including the distributions of mountains, rivers, and lakes, the species of animals and plants, the characteristics of growth and reproduction, seasonal changes, and the laws of cold, warm, dry and wet climates. Based on this knowledge, the herdsmen have divided the pastures into two camps: summer-autumn pastures and winter-spring pastures (Table 6). The winter-spring pastures are usually located in sheltered valleys and lowlands and have a lower elevation, and for the convenience of grazing in winter and spring, it is usually limited to areas near the settlement. On the basis of the division of pasture types, herdsmen conduct an orderly transfer of livestock between the winter-spring pastures and summer-autumn pastures, which are called “pasture transfer”, and it is also a process of rotational grazing according to the seasons.
Table 6 Division of pasture types in the study site and its basis
Pasture type Basis of division
Grazing time Elevation Terrain Distance from water sources Distance from settlements Main plant species
Winter-spring pasture November-May Lower Sheltered valleys and lowlands Far Near Grassland mainly with Allium polyrhizum, Allium ramosum and sagebrush
Summer-autumn pasture June-October Higher Ventilated slopes, tablelands Near Far Grassland mainly with perennial tufted grass
On the basis of pasture divisions, the local community has gradually formed the nomadic range and migration routes after years of accumulated experience. They take several adjacent Gacha (transliteration of “village” in Mongolian) as the nomadic unit and move back and forth between their summer-autumn pastures and winter-spring pastures each year along regular routes. Specifically, in mid-June of each year, herdsmen in Alihubu, Manitu, and Hailasutai will nomadize along the left route, and after arriving at the summer-autumn pasture, they mainly graze in areas A and C (Fig. 8). The herdsmen along the other two nomadic routes graze in the D, B, and E areas, respectively, and then return to the winter-spring pastures according to their respective nomadic routes at the end of September in each year (Fig. 8).
Fig. 8 Nomadic routes in the study area
This method for managing the livestock and grassland is mainly through the movement in space to reduce the feeding pressure of livestock on the grassland, and avoid the risk of staying in a fixed area for a long time. It also makes full use of the self-recovery ability of grasslands to improve the resilience of grassland, and enhances the adaptability of the livestock and the grassland to external environmental inter- ference, especially to extreme climate. As a result, pasture transfer is a kind of local adaptive strategy, evading the risk through the movement in space, which meets the requirement of extreme climate adaptation.

4 Discussion

Firstly, we distinguished the role of LK in climate change adaptation, focusing on the role of LK in extreme climate adaptation from the perspective of disaster risk management. Climate change, a general term for various forms of variables, is not only including the change in the average state of climate elements, but also the extreme climate events (Qin,2015). Although both are collectively referred to as climate change, adaptation to extreme climate is realized through disaster risk management in essence, which is a more proactive approach to risk management in advance, while adaptation to the changes in average climate variables is more of an adjusted response. Therefore, when analyzing the relationship between LK and climate change, it is necessary to distinguish whether the main adaptive object is to the average climate variables, to the extreme climate, or to both.
Secondly, LK is considered here as a knowledge system, which covers almost the whole disaster risk management process, instead of individual components of knowledge each of which is only helpful to a certain link of risk management. The different levels of the LK play different roles in this process. Specifically, the empirical ecological knowledge is mainly used for risk identification. The knowledge of natural resource management and social networks helps to form adaptive strategies to achieve risk-sharing, risk control and risk avoidance. Additionally, during the investigation, we found that LK is also evolving, that is, it not only includes traditional knowledge, but also knowledge introduced from the external environment, and both the “new” and “old” knowledge help the local community to realize adaptation to extreme climate. It should be noted that LK includes the whole process of risk management, but this does not mean that the response to climate risk can be achieved by relying exclusively on LK. Firstly, with the changes of lifestyle and livelihood and the implementation of different local policies, the loss of LK is serious and its transmission is not in place in the local community, leading to a lack of the LK that plays its role. Secondly, in the context of climate change, extreme climate risks are gradually increasing, so it is necessary to further explore whether LK can effectively cope with the increasing risks in the future, and systematic assessments of the validity of LK should be included in future research.
Thirdly, through the case study, it was found that the Mongolian traditional nomadic community takes a series of adaptive measures based on the LK, such as purchasing silage, adjustment of the flock, diversified livestock breeding, and pasture transfer. Based on these measures, the adaptive strategies including risk identification, diversification, mobility, storage and pooling were formed. With the application of these adaptive strategies, the extreme climate disaster risk management strategies including risk-sharing, risk control and risk avoidance were generated to reduce their vulnerability in the process of risk management, so as to realize the adaptation to extreme climate.
Lastly, the impact of extreme climate risk to human society is largely due to human vulnerability, so it depends more on the disaster exposure and resilience of human society (Chen et al., 2019). In the short run, we could take measures to help local communities to reduce vulnerability; but in the long run, enhancing the resilience of the system is the key. LK plays an important role in the maintenance of community resilience (Chen and Cheng, 2020). Therefore, it is necessary to protect LK to maintain the resilience of local communities in order to adapt to extreme climate in a more effective way. It is also worth noting that LK, as a kind of systematic knowledge, needs to be protected systematically. However, in the process of this investigation, we found that the LK in Bayanwenduer Sumu is disappearing, which is unfavorable for the grassland nomadic system to adapt to climate change in the future, because the disappearance of LK means that the resilience of this system is reduced. Therefore, systematic protection is urgently needed. Fortunately, the system has been declared as a GIAHS at this point. Therefore, if the idea of systematic and dynamic protection in GIAHS (Yang et al.,2020) can be practiced effectively in the protection and development of the study area, it will have a positive significance for both the protection of the LK and the adaptation of extreme climate in this region.

5 Conclusions

This study begins with an analysis of the relationships among LK, extreme climate, and disaster risk management from the perspective of disaster risk management, and constructs a conceptual logical framework among extreme climate, risk management, LK, and farmers’ adaptation strategies. Through the conceptual framework, the logical relationships among extreme climate, LK, disaster risk management and farmers’ adaptation strategies are clarified, that is, extreme climate is a kind of disaster risk, and local communities could manage it through adaptation strategies formed from LK, and the LK, as a knowledge system, contains all the links and related knowledge needed in the process of disaster risk management. In other words, theoretically, LK empowers local communities to adapt to extreme climate through the management of extreme climate risk.
From the case study, we could see that in the practice of coping with extreme climate and other disaster risks, local communities have formed adaptive strategies that include identification, diversification, mobility, storage and pooling based on their LK. On this basis, they have formed a complete disaster risk management process, including risk identification, risk assessment and risk disposal. The conceptual framework is well demonstrated in this case. However, it should be noted that LK includes the whole process of risk management, which does not mean that LK alone can help local community to cope with extreme climate risks completely, because in the actual process, the loss of LK, the reduction of its usage extent, and the increase of climate risks and other factors will affect the function of LK.
Insights from this research demonstrate that since LK is a knowledge system, it needs to be protected as a whole. Since the local community is the medium of LK inheritance and survival, the whole protection of LK can only be realized if the local community is protected. Specifically, as the carrier of LK of climate risk management, only the nomadic system is protected as a whole, can the LK be protected better, so as to allow for the better use and practice of LK and to help the local communities adapt to climate change. Secondly, taking the perspective of disaster risk management in studying the relationship between LK and climate change in local communities may have some guiding significance for using LK to serve in the formulation of relevant climate change adaptation strategies by the government.
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