PhD – Socio-ecological dynamics of pastoralism and overgrazing in the Dhofar Mountains of Oman

I shall always remember how I was humbled by those illiterate herdsmen who possessed, in so much greater measure than I, generosity and courage, endurance, patience and lighthearted gallantry. Among no other people have I felt the same sense of personal inadequacy”

Sir Wilfred Thesiger


Despite 40 years of rapid modernisation across Oman, pastoralism has remained deeply embedded in the culture of rural communities in the southern Dhofar Mountains. Improved veterinary care, low livestock disease prevalence, improved rural infrastructure, poor market access, and an absence of land tenure policies has seen livestock numbers increase exponentially since the 70s, with numbers now significantly exceeding the carrying capacity of the environment. As a result, widespread overgrazing is degrading key ecosystem services which support pastoral livelihoods, degrading unique habitats and threatening species of global conservation value, most notably the critically endangered Arabian Leopard, a flagship species for conservation in Oman.

An intervention is urgently required to manage pastoral activity in Dhofar with greater consideration for its environmental impacts. However, previous research in the region has failed to bridge disciplines to unravel the dynamics behind overgrazing, or harness the local knowledge (LK) of the pastoralists themselves. This project aims to provide an interdisciplinary understanding of the dynamics of overgrazing in the monsoon-influenced Jabal Qamar mountain range of Dhofar, the results of which could help to support future policy decisions.


lawrenceballA range of methods from the social sciences including key-informant interviews, focus groups and questionnaires are being utilised to explore the social and economic drivers behind overgrazing. In addition, participatory mapping exercises aim to provide a spatio-temporal representation of grazing activity in the region. Vegetation analyses are being carried out at a number of sites under varying grazing pressures, and, when combined with GIS, mobile-mapping, and remote sensing techniques, we anticipate an improved understanding of the ecological impacts of grazing activity.

The current sustainability of pastoral activities will be explored within the disciplines of resource availability, ecological resilience and recovery, plant physiology, soil processes and biodiversity conservation. Accumulated evidence on both the social and ecological dynamics of overgrazing will be treated in depth to develop robust and conclusive outputs grounded in both the data and real-world phenomena. These outputs will then be used to evaluate options for improved grazing management practices.

jabali-herdsmenAs-salāmu ʿalaykum السَّلَامُ عَلَيْكُمْ‎‎ is a greeting in Arabic that means “peace be upon you”.