Social dimensions of adaptation to climate change in rangelands: a systematic literature review

Ada P. Smith, Sechindra Vallury, Elizabeth Covelli Metcalf

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Rangeland social-ecological systems (SESs), which make up vast tracts of Earth’s terrestrial surface, are facing unprecedented change—from climate change and vegetation transitions to large-scale shifts in human land use and changing social and economic conditions. Understanding how people who manage and depend on rangeland resources are adapting to change has been the focus of a rapidly growing body of research, which has the potential to provide important insights for climate change adaptation policy and practice. Here, we use quantitative, qualitative, and bibliometric analyses to systematically review the scope, methods, and findings of 56 studies that examine the social dimensions of adaptation in rangeland SESs. Our review focuses on studies within the climate adaptation, adaptive capacity, and adaptive decision-making sub-fields, finding that this body of research is highly diverse in its disciplinary roots and theoretical origins, and therefore uses a wide range of frameworks and indicators to evaluate adaptation processes. Bibliometric analyses revealed that the field is fragmented into distinct scholarly communities that use either adaptive capacity or adaptive decision-making frameworks, with a lack of cross-field citation. Given the strengths (and weaknesses) inherent in each sub-field, this review suggests that greater cross-pollination across the scholarship could lead to new insights, particularly for capturing cross-scale interactions related to adaptation on rangelands. Results also showed that a majority of studies that examine adaptation in either “ranching” or “rangeland” systems are geographically concentrated in few, high-income countries (i.e., USA, Australia, China), demonstrating a need to extend future research efforts to understudied regions of the globe with rangeland-based livelihoods. Finally, our review highlights the need for more translational rangeland science, where policy- and practice-relevant frameworks evaluating adaptation in rangeland SESs might be developed by co-producing research working with rangeland communities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number180
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2023


  • Adaptive capacity
  • Adaptive decision-making
  • Climate adaptation
  • Co-citation analysis
  • Rangelands
  • Social-ecological systems


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