Traditional ecological knowledge enables pastoralists to cope with social-ecological changes, thereby increasing the sustainability of their practices and fostering social-ecological resilience. Yet, there is a significant knowledge gap concerning the extent to which pastoral traditional ecological knowledge has changed over time at the global level. We aim to fill this gap through a systematic literature review of 288 scientific studies on pastoral traditional ecological knowledge. We reviewed 152 papers in detail (selected randomly from the 288) for their content, and focused specifically on 61 papers that explicitly mentioned one of the four types of knowledge transition (i.e., retention, erosion, adaptation, or hybridization). Studies on pastoral traditional knowledge represent less than 3% of all the scholarly literature on traditional ecological knowledge. Geographical distribution of the 288 case studies was largely biased. Knowledge domains of pastoral knowledge such as herd and livestock management, forage and medicinal plants, and landscape and wildlife were relatively equally covered; however, climate-related knowledge was less often studied. Of the 63 papers that explicitly mentioned transition of pastoral traditional ecological knowledge, 52 reported erosion, and only 11 studies documented explicitly knowledge retention, adaptation, or hybridization of traditional knowledge. Thus, adaptation and hybridization was understudied, although some case studies showed that adaptation and hybridization of knowledge can efficiently help pastoralists navigate among social-ecological changes. Based on the review, we found 13 drivers which were mentioned as the main reasons for knowledge transition among which social-cultural changes, formal schooling, abandonment of pastoral activities, and transition to a market economy were most often reported. We conclude that future research should focus more on the diverse dynamics of pastoral traditional knowledge, be more careful in distinguishing the four knowledge transition types, and analyze how changes in knowledge impact change in pastoral practices and lifestyles. Understanding these phenomena could help pastoralists’ adaptations and support their stewardship of their rangeland ecosystems and biocultural diversity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number14
Number of pages63
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


  • Indigenous knowledge
  • pastoralism
  • rangelands
  • social-ecological systems
  • transition
  • transmission


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