Coping with climate change in socio-ecological systems is one of the most urgent issues facing the world. This is particularly true in socio-ecological systems, where climate not only influences social and ecosystem dynamics, but also modulates their interaction. In this paper, we presented a conceptual framework through a literature review and a trend analysis for assessing the impact of climate change that incorporates socio-ecological interactions. In particular, we focused on the Mongolian pastoral system, which has tightly coupled socio-ecological interactions, as a model for describing the framework. Our framework suggests that the flexibility in mobility of herders is the principal factor in determining the vulnerability of the socio-ecological system to climate change. The flexibility varies along a climatic gradient and socio-ecological interactions in each region have evolved to be suited to its local climate regime. Herders in northern and central regions of Mongolia move shorter distances, and less flexible, than those in southern (Gobi) region. Climatic hazards, on the other hand have been increasing across Mongolia with a trend toward warmer and drier conditions since the 1960s. We suggest that further warming and drying would have the greatest impact on northern and central regions due to lower flexibility in mobility among herders there coupled with the much higher livestock density in the regions. The findings support that maintaining flexibility of mobile herding will likely be crucial to reducing the vulnerability of the Mongolian pastoral system to climate change.
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