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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Environmental Conservation

Year Degree Awarded

Fall 2014

First Advisor

Paul Barten

Second Advisor

John Finn

Subject Categories

Environmental Sciences

Abstract

This dissertation research focuses on a high elevation Andean social-ecological system. It examines system linkages between climate, grazing pasture (wetlands), and agro-pastoralist livelihood strategies in an indigenous peasant community. Working within the conceptual framework of complex systems dynamics and sustainable livelihoods analysis, methods and concepts are synthesized from the disciplines of climatology, hydrology, remote sensing and political ecology, and results contribute to the transdisciplinary literature on vulnerability analysis within the context of environmental change.

In the Andes of southern Peru livelihoods are based on agro-pastoralist activities that rely on access to natural resources in the puna ecosystem. The majority of pastoralists in the study region are indigenous Quechua who in the higher elevations raise herds predominantly of alpaca and sheep. This region in Peru has the highest density of alpacas and is a national leader in the production of fiber. The people in the District of Nuñoa are extremely proud of their alpaca herding heritage and have recently declared the district to be the “World capital and patrimony of the Suri alpaca”. Alpaca are therefore both economically and culturally important. Together with other members in the camelidae family (llama, vicuña, and guanaco), alpaca are well suited to the high elevation puna ecosystem. Wetlands in the puna, known as bofedales, have hydrological and biological characteristics that make them a vital resource to the pastoralist livelihood.

Climatic and environmental perturbations may be more pronounced in mountain regions and the affects to local water balance, ecosystems, and humans may be more profound. The sensitivity, adaptive capacity, and hence vulnerability of individuals, groups, and livelihoods to perturbations is a complex function of social, political, and environmental factors. This research uses a hierarchy of spatial scales to understand climate variability in the region as well as spatial and temporal changes in the natural resource base. A case study of an agro-patoralist community allows for the characterization of two disturbance regimes (climate and land use and management) and the linkages between components in the herding system and climate system. The results indicate that there is periodicity in the regional hydroclimatology but a deterioration of the resource base in the watershed. Economic and political factors may be contributing to the overuse of natural pastures which increases the future vulnerability of alpaca herders to environmental change in the Nuñoa watershed.

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