Colorado State University Team Receives $1.5 Million NSF Grant to Study Climate Change Impacts on Mongolian Pastoralists

A team of researchers from Colorado State University’s Warner College of Natural Resources has been awarded a $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant to study the impact of climate change on rangeland-based ecosystems and livelihoods of pastoralists in Mongolia.

The project focuses on the way Mongolian pastoral systems are impacted by climate change and how the development of local resource management institutions can aid communities in adapting to climate change.

During the past 40 years, Mongolia has experienced one of the world’s most significant warming trends. Increasing rangeland degradation and livestock deaths following severe winter storms sparked the development of more than 2,000 community-based rangeland management organizations in the past decade. These types of institutions may help communities deal with climate change effects including declining land productivity and more frequent extreme weather events.

“Understanding the interdependent behavior of social and natural systems and the factors that affect how these linked systems respond to sudden natural or political-economic shocks or ongoing stresses is a major challenge for science,” said Maria Fernandez-Gimenez, principal investigator on the project and associate professor in CSU’s Department of Forest, Rangeland, and Watershed Stewardship.

The NSF’s Dynamics of Natural and Coupled Human Systems grant program promotes interdisciplinary analyses of relevant human systems and natural system processes and complex interactions among human and natural systems at diverse scales. The $1.5 million grant awarded to the CSU team was the largest of 14 grants awarded in the highly competitive program.

The research team will use ecological and social science data collection and analysis methods – ranging from remote sensing to ethnographic interviews – to investigate how community-based rangeland management organizations function and whether they improve a community’s resilience to climate change impacts.

“Our hope is that the results of this study will have direct implications for environmental policy in Mongolia,” said Jessica Thompson, co-principal investigator on the project and assistant professor in CSU’s Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources. “Specifically, we plan to have a direct impact on stakeholders, including herders and policy-makers, through their engagement in participatory modeling and scenario planning workshops.”

The team is comprised of the following CSU researchers: Maria Fernandez-Gimenez, Melinda Laituri, Robin Reid, Steven Fassnacht, Jessica Thompson, Kathy Galvin and Randy Boone.

About CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources

The Warner College of Natural Resources offers a comprehensive range of undergraduate and graduate degree programs that address current environmental issues and societal concerns. The college is one of the largest in the country with 1,200 undergraduate students, 300 graduate students, world-class faculty and 500 scientists, researchers, support staff and student employees. Programs range from tourism, forestry and geosciences to conservation biology and ecosystem science. For more information, visit