Local adaptative responses of pastoralism to climate change in the Natural Park of Montesinho (Portugal)

Principal researcher: Amélia Frazão Moreira

External principal researcher: Marina Castro (Instituto Politécnico de Bragança - Centro de Investigação de Montanha)

Research group: Environment, Sustainability and Ethnography


Climate change adaptation | Landscape dynamics | Local perceptions and practices | Small ruminants

Funding Institution

Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT)



Start date


End date





Pastoralism is particularly exposed to the changes in climate and landscape (Scoones1996), which threatens its viability and the survival of pastoralist communities (Godde2020). Thus, pastoralist communities are already adapting their husbandry practices to ensure survival and continuity of their activity (Menghistu2020; Yu2016). The Montesinho Natural Park (PNM) is encompassed within a historical region of pastoralism, notably of small ruminants (Honrado2017). The PNM area counts 47 active flocks of local indigenous breeds of small ruminants, representing a total of 4,290 females officially registered in the genealogy books of the respective breed associations. Goat and sheep pastoralism provides animal proteins for locals’ diet (Honrado2017), contributes both to the environmental management of the landscape and to settle population in areas suffering from pronounced emigration (Castro2020), and represents a cultural identity of the region of the PNM (Dias1953). While recent climatic predictions sustain that PNM’s temperature will progressively rise 4 degrees until the end of this century according to portaldoclima.pt, replacing the humid temperate and supramediterranean by sub-humid mesomediterranean bioclimates (Andrade2020), the scientific literature lacks references on the current adaptation of small ruminant pastoralists to climate change in the PNM. Therefore, the proposal aims at addressing this gap. Local adaptative responses, though, result not only from the attested evolution of climate but rely on the individual and collective perceptions on these evolutions by local dwellers (Ingold2000; Mathur2015; Selin2011; Zhao2016) which would demand a multidisciplinary effort, combining both natural and social sciences’ perspectives and methods, to study them. In that sense but also in the aim of strengthening co-operation and synergies between natural science and environmental anthropology in Portugal, this proposal is supported by a research team combining forestry, zootechny and anthropology backgrounds. The main goal is to study the biophysical and socio-cultural local adaptative responses of pastoralism to the effects of climate change in the PNM. Ultimately, this proposal seeks to enhance the knowledge base for improved scientific, institutional and practitioners’ responses to climate change in Mediterranean mountain areas, by producing operational knowledge and tools to be mainstreamed into practical response plans. The PNM seems like an appropriate location for this research. It concentrates a rich and diverse landscape (Castro2010) and effects of climate change tend especially to be visible in remote mountain areas, challenging local dwellers who make their living from land and nature (Mathur2015). The research will be voluntarily bound to the PNM indigenous breeds of sheep (i.e. the Churra Galega Bragançana White and the Black) and goats (i.e. the Preta de Montesinho) and have the grazing/browsing paths as the main locus. While the indigenous breeds tend to be genetically more interwoven with the local environment (Bertaglia2007) and culturally more interwoven with local traditions and identities (Hadjigeorgiou2011), the grazing/browsing paths constitute the principal vector of interaction of the socio-cultural and the biophysical dimensions of pastoralism (Gooch2016). A set of interwoven research tasks is proposed by the research team, divided in documental and field data collection and systematisation, for the initial two years, and on the analysis of results, preparation and submission of scientific deliverables, as well as on the edition and dissemination of informative and capacity-building materials for the last year. More precisely, 5 tasks are foreseen: (i) the monitoring of landscape evolution, (ii) a walking ethnography; (iii) a mapping of grazing/browsing paths; (iv) the interdisciplinary analysis and integration of biophysical and cultural results; (v) the enhancement of the knowledge base. The enhancement of the knowledge base task represents an important element of project’s targets. The team’s ambition is not only to contribute to advance the scientific knowledge on local adaptative responses of pastoralists (via scientific papers and the legacy of a webGIS platform) but to equip practitioners and policymakers with the right knowledge tools to implement change and ensure continuity of mountain pastoralism, notably in the Mediterranean area. Thus, research results will first benefit from a community-based revision to enhance community ownership and ensure adequation to practitioners’ needs. Then, different deliverables will be tailored to different audiences (scientific, policymakers, practitioners, and general public) and published and disseminated in open access regimes. Partner indigenous breed associations will also support the dissemination of relevant deliverables among practitioners.